PRRM has recently partnered with Greenpeace Philippines in organizing a day tour targeting photo-enthusiasts, bloggers and media people as well as tour operators on a tour of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in Morong. Coinciding with the Global Day of Action to observe the 90th day of the Fukushima Meltdown, the tour was primarily designed to drum up greater awareness on the inherent dangers of nuclear energy and the call for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Greenpeace also wanted to highlight other ecological aspects of the province, looking at the possibilities of having the BNPP visit as part of a tourism package, to be offered by the province. Hence, PRRM was approached by Greenpeace to include the Pawikan Center in Morong in the tour itinerary. The invitation was a good opportunity for PRRM to also explore the prospects of reviving its eco-development tourism program.
Inside the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)
With the bus leaving Quezon City early in the morning of June 11, the tour group arrived at the BNPP at around 9am. After a requisite registration of participants, we were led to an auditorium where plant officials gave an overview of the BNPP. Acknowledging the pro-renewable energy stance of the tour organizers, BNPP officials sought to highlight the differences between the BNPP and the Fukushima plant (which 90 days after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, is still in critical condition). Compared to Fuskushima’s boiling water reactor (BWR), BNPP has a pressurized water reactor (PWR) which according to them is the nuclear plant model that has not yet figured in any mishaps. The BNPP is constructed 18 meters above sea level, which they claim should ensure adequate protection in a tsunami scenario. Mr. Marcelo, an administrator at the plant, also pointed out that that nuclear energy remains the cheapest source of energy at P1.00/kilowatt compared to P17.00 of solar energy. Despite these assurances, participants remained skeptical and as one of them commented, “if a First World country like Japan is unable to contain a meltdown, what more a country like the Philippines?”
The controversial power plant, begun in 1976 and finished in 1984, was built at a cost of $2.3 Billion loaned from the World Bank. Besieged by both technical and political challenges, the plant never became operational and has been dubbed one of the Marcos Regime’s white elephants. Despite long-running calls to for the cancellation of the WB debt, the Philippine government continued to service this debt at PhP40 Million a year until it was finally paid off in 2007. Both pro and anti-nuclear proponents have since been thinking of ways to recoup the plant’s losses. Greenpeace is thus proposing to make the BNPP an educational tour destination, taking off from a pronouncement made by the Department of Tourism (DOT) listing the BNPP as a tourist attraction in Bataan.
The tour also featured a stop at the Pawikan Center, also in Morong. Bantay Pawikan, Inc., a partner community organization of PRRM, has been running a community-based conservation program of Marine Turtles with the help of UNDP-GEF-SGP-PRRM and the Provincial Government since 1999. Marine turtles instinctively seek the shorelines where they are born. Unfortunately, these nesting grounds often suffer from the intrusion of people, who construct houses or harvest eggs and turtles for profit, now illegal under R.A. 9147. Bantay Pawikan has been at the forefront of turtle conservation and awareness-raising among communities along the 7-kilometer shoreline of Morong which marine turtles go to to lay their eggs.To protect the eggs, Bantay Pawikan conducts nightly patrols to monitor the arrival and egg-laying of the marine turtles. The Bantay Pawikan’s current president Manolo Ibias is proud of the fact that from 1999 to the present, they have walked back and forth along the Morong shores an astounding equivalent of the distance from Manila to Sao Paolo! Upon finding the eggs, Bantay Pawikan shelters them in a hatchery until they hatch and are ready to be released. To date, 47,000 hatchlings have been released into the wild by the organization.
The tour was capped by a visit to historic Mt. Samat Shrine, which commemorates the last stand of Philippine and American soldiers during World War II.
Greenpeace hopes that the groundbreaking event would spark more eco-tours in the province in order to “highlight how nuclear energy can threaten quality of life, contrasting it with how technologies and practices that are more sustainable, such as renewable energy, can better benefit both people and the environment” as Francis Dela Cruz, Public Outreach Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia shares. Designing a trip with a visit to the Pawikan Center as well as the beaches and scenic trails in the province can also reinforce the creation of greater ecological awareness among future visitors.
March 8, 2014, Cocoon Boutique Hotel
Quezon City, Philippines