Health impact added to nuclear plant objections

HEALTH impacts have been added as another potential objection to nuclear power plants, with an Australian anti-nuclear advocate and doctor calling such facilities “cancer factories.”

“Nuclear power plants are cancer factories. Nuclear power plants (using) uranium produce over 200 radioactive elements, some which last seconds, and some which last millions of years,” according to Helen Mary Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, speaking in a Zoom interview with BusinessWorld.

Ms. Caldicott, an Australian who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, added that radioactive waste, which needs to be isolated from the ecosphere for one million years, will also come up as an issue, she added.

Ms. Caldicott said that “as we put (radioactive waste) in the Earth,… the containers that hold radioactive elements will rust, break, and the radiation and elements will leak into the water supply,” thereby affecting the food chain.

“It only takes one beta particle, an electron or gamma radiation to kill you,” she added.

Genetic mutations also have the potential to affect reproduction, passing on mutations to future generations of humans, plants and animals.

A South Korean company has offered to rehabilitate the nuclear power plant in Bataan within five years for a cost of $1.19 billion, Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) Director Carlo A. Arcilla said early in February.

The 621-megawatt Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was constructed as a response to the 1973 oil crisis. It was completed in 1984 at a cost of $1.9 billion but never loaded with fuel or operated due to financial issues and safety concerns.

“It’s never been operated, and it’s very old now in terms of technical (specifications). I would be very hesitant to open it up, and I would have to know everything about it from the structural capacity, the physics, are there any fuel rods there?” Ms. Caldicott said.

“But anyway, you don’t want a nuclear reactor because… studies have shown that children under the age of five living within five kilometers of nuclear power plants have doubled the incidence of leukemia.”

She said proximity to spent radioactive fuel rods for even a few seconds can be deadly.

“When they recharge the reactor and take out the spent fuel, there’s always a huge release of radioactive elements into the air and water. The water that is used to cool reactors goes back into the lake, the river, or the sea relatively radioactive, and as I’ve told you, it re-concentrates back in the food chain,” she said.

“You don’t want to increase the incidence of cancer in your country,” she added. “We’re talking about life and death now, and how sacred life is. Nuclear power plants are antithetical to the sanctity of life.”

The Catholic Church has posed its own objections, with Ruperto Cruz Santos, Bishop of Balanga, writing a pastoral letter calling the repurposing of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant “neither right nor good.”

“We do not want to put life on the brink of danger, and we do not want a future without the certainty of goodness, safety and beauty,” he said. “We do not want our sea to be made uninhabitable for marine life, resulting in the destruction of our ecosystem.”

“We do not want our soil to be poisoned and no longer cultivable. We do not want our livelihoods destroyed,” he added.

The Department of Energy has estimated a timeline of 10 years before nuclear power can be integrated into the Philippine energy mix.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has expressed interest in exploring the feasibility of adding nuclear power to the grid.

“He’s wrong,” Ms. Caldicott said, saying that he needs to learn more about the impact of nuclear power.

She recommended that the Philippines focus on growing its renewable energy industry.

“You are one of the hottest countries in the world, so why don’t you cover all your buildings with solar panels and make solar farms so that huge areas of the country are covered with solar panels,” she said.

“You should have windmills everywhere,” she added.

She added that these two energy sources have become more affordable over the years, with the developing energy storage technology addressing the problem of intermittency plaguing solar and wind.

“The money that you put into a nuclear power plant could be billions and billions; it’s up to I think nearly $20 billion to build one,” she added.

These outlays, she said, “could be spent covering every single building in the Philippines with solar panels,” making the country self-sufficient in electricity production, she added. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan