Bataan power plant opens its doors to tourists

Want to feel some thrills? Want to have a closer look into one of those places on earth that populate the nightmares of hundreds of millions, and touch by your very hands how safe they are really? Well, if you happen to be in the Philippines, just drive to Bataan, a few hours north of Manila. There you will find a large, grey building ornated by a cylindrical tower, standing on a promontory overlooking the sea.

It is Bataan nuclear power plant, the one and only in the Philippines. Nearly three decades ago it cost the Asian country more than $2 billion dollars yet no watt of electricity ever entered the country’s grid from here. It is now open as a tourist attraction and an educational site.

The plant’s staff shows visitors arond the site to teach them about nuclear plant and nuclear power generation. There is no danger of radiation, and that means people can enter right into the heart of the tower and see the reactor itself, with its control rods still wrapped in their plastic packaging. The only nuclear plant in the world where visitors can actually place their steps into the reactors’ core.

The Bataan nuclear plant has had a troubled life ever since the beginning. Built back in the early 1980s it was never switched on because it happened to be the wrong timing for nuclear sites. After many years of construction and alteration, national and international safety checks, it was finally ready to start in ghe mid-1980s. But the Philippines was going thorugh very hard times, social and economical turmoils ended up in the ousting of President Ferdinand Marcos in the country’s first People Power Revolution. Marcos happend to be the plant number one fan, while his successor Corazon Aquino had her doubts about its safety – in particular, she questioned whether the many allegations of corruption against the previous regime could mean that parts of the plant were not built properly. The Bataan plant is near several geological fault lines and not far from an active volcano, and that was a major concern for the new government.

When, a few months after she came to power, the Chernobyl disaster happened in the Ukraine, Mrs Aquino decided the Philippines would put its nuclear energy plans on hold.

Pro-nuclear scientists and entrepreneurs in the country never lost their hope that, one day, the Bataan reactor will be up and running, giving the country a contribution in terms of energy the Philippines badly needs and long for to feed its economic development. The Philippines has the highest domestic electricity rates in the whole of Asia. As one of the region’s poorest countries, this puts a huge strain on the economy.

Much of its power currently comes from coal, imported – and therefore expensive – and highly pollutant.

Though badly in need for a new, cost-effective, efficient source of power, the country still does not feel comfortably thinking to turn nuclear. Tourist tours at the Bataan plant are aimed at showing Philipinos how a nuclear site is managed, how safe it is, how skilled technicians and operators are in order to face and solve all occurencies.

Will they succeed in spreading a more positive attitude toward nuclear power? The plant manager, Mauro Marcelo, doesn’t sound too optimistic: in an interview to a local newspaper he said he does not expect the plant to be switched on during his woring lifetime. Hopefully, he’s wrong.


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