BNPP: A power giant in hibernation

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian (left), Senate Energy Committee Chair; Senator Nancy Binay (center), Committee Vice Chair; and Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, Committee Member lead the Senate ocular inspection of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) at Morong, Bataan on Friday (Sept. 16, 2016). (PNA photo by Jess M. Escaros Jr.)

MANILA – More than 30 years since it was closed down, much of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant’s (BNPP) physical structure remains standing despite the numerous natural calamities that hit the country over the past three decades, among them the 1990 earthquake that hit Central Luzon and the massive ash fall brought about by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.

Situated on the coastline of the Bataan peninsula in the town of Morong, what could have been the first nuclear facility in this side of the region remains untouched and seemingly frozen in time.

During an ocular inspection led by Department of Energy (DOE) and National Power Corp. (Napocor) officials on Wednesday, reporters were taken on a tour of the entire facility and were briefed on how the BNPP was designed to work.

On the exterior, the structure appears intact with minor cracks on its plaster finish and rusting on steel components, pipes and tanks exposed to the elements. Not surprisingly, the roof has since rusted out and was leaking quite badly since it was raining hard when the ocular inspection was conducted.

Entering the facility is like travelling back in time. Every piece of equipment installed in the BNPP complex, including the nuclear reactor, dates back to the 1980s and are amazingly well-preserved.

Electrical control operator, Reynaldo Punzalan, who was already employed at the Napocor when the BNPP was completed, said that since the facility was closed, none of the equipment was ever activated and all are in the same condition that they were in back in 1986 when the plant was supposed to have begun its operations.

Simply put, the BNPP operates in the same manner as any other conventional power plant where steam is used to propel turbines that generate electrical energy. The only difference is that the heating element used is uranium instead of coal.

And like coal-fired plants, nuclear power plants utilize a similar water cooling system that uses de-mineralized seawater. To prevent a meltdown similar to the Three-Mile Island incident in the United States, a three-tier cooling system — consisting of running, backup and standby systems — was employed instead of the usual two-tier standard of running and backup systems.

“The BNPP was already high-tech when it was constructed in the early 1980s and before it was set to operate, upgrades were made, particularly the cooling system. Only the best materials, components and design were used for the facility. Safety protocols that were implemented here are at par with other nuclear power plants in the world,” Punzalan said.

He noted that even the physical structure of the BNPP incorporates state-of-the-art seismic design where the walls of the plant are not flush against each other and in case of an earthquake, cracking of concrete will be minimized.

Russian nuclear energy consultant Djurica Tankosic, president of global nuclear development at the engineering and consultancy firm, Worley Parsons, explained that it will take some time to determine whether or not the BNPP can be rehabilitated.

“At this point, we cannot say for certain if the facility can be run. Visual inspections and tests are necessary to determine the condition of equipment, operability of equipment, feasibility, budget and schedule of tests and other procedures needed are just part of the scope of work,” Tankosic explained.

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