Category: science

No research, no way of detecting radioactive leakages #NoToBNPP

Radiation biologist
University of the Philippines 

Most of us, unfortunately, were trained abroad, either in the United Kingdom or the United States. Therefore, we are very much aware of how sensitive plants and animals are to radioactive releases, but these are animals and plants of temperate countries. We don’t know how sensitive our mango, sampalok, avocado trees, our rivers, lakes, mollusks, fishes, and animals are to radiation. Different organisms would have different coefficients. Different organisms would have different rates of keeping the radio-isotopes, depending on their metabolism. All we know is that radio-sensitivity will be very much related to the chromosome number and to the volume of the nucleus. At the moment we’re just beginning to find out the chromosome number of most of our local plants in Bataan. Then only can we determine which of these plans to use as indicators of radioactive leakage.

Most of us are interested, of course, in the genetic significant dose. What kinds of mutations will radiation produce? This will be a legacy. Mutations are forever, will be transmitted from generation to generation.

One thing we can expect is an increase in caratogenic effects (abnormalities in foetuses) and an increase in the incidence of cancer due to direct or delayed effects of radiation, or due to the accumulation of certain radioactive materials in some very sensitive areas. For example, strontium-90 in the bones could easily lead to leukemia, cancer of the bones.

But right now we know very little about what happens to radio isotopes that are absorbed internally. How long will they stay there? Will they be removed or eliminated? Where will they go? To the very important tissues of the lungs, the heart, the bones, or will they be all over the body, or only in the thyroid, or in the blood?  And you cannot assess any of that unless you go one by one through the list of isotopes and also through the different organisms of the food chain the land and water ecosystems. It’s not that simple.

We’ve told NAPOCOR a number of times  that we need to do these kinds of studies but their usual answer is that they’re not a research institution, that PAEC and some universities can do that kind of work. But since there’s no funding for research in this area, few studies have been done.

Question. What if it came to a vote?

I’d vote negative. And not because of safety problems . . . I am confident that the technical aspects can be handled . . .  but for economic reasons. My conviction is that since Juan de la Cruz needs only two bulbs to light his house, $2 billion is too much to pay.

[“A Primer on Nuclear Power.” Alternative Futures.  Vol II. No 1. 1985.  27-32]

Safety concerns, leaking tubes, nuclear waste #NoToBNPP

Nuclear engineer, Dean of the College of Science
Adamson University 

Our concern centers around a very little 16-gm. pellet which contains about 3% uranium-235 and 97% uranium-238 bonded with ceramic. This little pellet, fully utilized, will give as much energy as 4 barrels of oil. If your burn one carbon atom, you get about 30 electron volts of energy, and that’s being generous. If you split one uranium atom, you get 200,000,000 electron volts of energy, a tremendous amount of energy indeed.

Seven million 16-gm. Pellets are packed in rods that are about 45 feet long and the rods are clustered, and the clusters are put in the reactor core. Our worries begin with the very act of fission itself. You have, say, a basketball-size uranium-235 nucleus. You split that with a small ping-pong size neutron. In the process of fission, you produce energy and two large volleyball-size  very radioactive particles, plus two to three more pingpong-size neutrons: one needed to continue the chain reaction, the other to lodge somewhere else, which if it lodges in the structure may produce a third radioactive atom; if it lodges in the fuel, more likely it will lodge in the uranium-238 nucleus which will react; if there’s a nuclear reaction between a u-238 and a neutron, you produce plutonium after two decays, which means there will be enough material in the nuclear reactor after a year’s operation to produce enough plutonium for about 10 to 20 bombs, depending on design. Which for some countries may be a good thing, but for those who believe in Christianity it is not a good thing.

All our safety concerns stem from the fact that radio-activity is being created. During the process of fission, you produce about 35 assorted elements or isotopes. Some in the form of gases like krypton and xenon which you cannot keep in the control rod, they escape into the coolant water from which they have to be extracted and stored or released into the atmosphere. But the bulk of fission products will remain trapped in the control rods. After a year’s use, you replace some 20 tons of it and keep the spent fuel temporarily in swimming pools that are about 12 feet deep. If we allow the nuclear plant to operate, let’s say it operates for 30 years, we will have so much radioactive waste to dispose of.

In the U.S. nuclear reactors are faced with the problem of accumulated wastes. When they designed these swimming pools s temporary sites, they expected in the future to have a permanent storage place, but this has not materialized. So they’re building more swimming pools instead.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) is very very strict on storage because the spent fuel elements are so radio-actively hot that they produce/generate enough heat to melt the fuel rods themselves. And there’s a possibility that you might keep those fuel rods in a configuration that may become critical, that might also produce fission.

Two cardinal rules in running a nuclear reactor: One, never never leave it without circulating coolant water, that is, water at 2000 lbs. per square inch at 635 degrees fahrenheit. I think 600,000 gallons per minute is what you need to cool the reactor and this must be circulating constantly. Two, never never be without power, whether from the Luzon grid or emergency diesel generators or from your own production.

Now our reactor is a Westinghouse reactor whose steam generator might have a defect common to Westinghouse reactors. Westinghouse sold one to Japan in 1970 which turned out to be a lemon. The Japanese never got any power out of it because of steam generator problems, that is, leaking tubes. A leakage of just one gallon per minute out of 600,000 gallons per minute of water is already considered dangerous. You’d be required to shut down that reactor.

What did our Westinghouse friends say on TV when they were asked about this? Oh, they said, we anticipated that problem. All you have  to do is plug any leaking tubes, we made provisions for extra tubes. They didn’t mention, of course, that the tubes are in the reactor building, you have to open the steam generator and locte the leaking tube before you can plug it. And what if there were a leakage and the tube did not know how to follow Westinghouse’s directions? What if a leaking tube ruptures? The rupture would cause a decrease in the pressure, steam will form, the release valve will open, so many gallons of water will spill out and contaminate the building. It would take 6 months to repair the steam generator and to complete decontamination.

All major accidents, so far, involved mistakes in design and failure of equipment, usually compounded by human error. What we need are experts with stringent standards to help with the evaluation of the plant’s construction and design. Which is why I question the Philippine government’s insistence to the USNRC in 1980 that any evaluation by the latter of our nuclear plant would constitute a violation of Philippine sovereignty. Why does the government not want to know what nuclear experts think about our plant?

I’m pretty sure that if that nuclear plant is evaluated by an independent team of experts, one not subject to the pressures a Filipino team would be subject to, a lot of safety defects will be found. Then surely the price will even go higher. In the U.S. experience with plants that are 95 to 100% completed, you’ll need at least half a billion dollars more to upgrade design and safety standards.

Now if we’re going to spend half a billion more dollars, let’s construct a dirty coal plant instead. The tubing is already there, the generator is already there, the building is already there. We can have a dirty coal plant for the same amount of money. Yes, there will be pollution of the environment to worry about but at least it won’t be radioactive, nor permanently dangerous.  We will not be leaving future generations of Filipinos with a ticking time bomb. God did not create radioactivit in such huge quantities. It is this generation, our generation, that is creating these radioactive particles and wastes. I blame the Church. The Church has not addressed the morality of technological advances such as this.

Question. Will the plant be able to withstand earthquakes? Or what if that nearby volcano erupts without warning?

GONZALEZ.  In August 1973 the NAPOCOR engaged EBASCO Overseas Corporation of New York to help select, then evaluate, the site for the nuclear plant. They submitted 13 volumes of reports after 2 years work. The Philippines spent about $615 million for their assessments. Their conclusions: (1) The plant will be able to withstand earthqueakes up to 7.9 on the Richter scale, that is, about 40% acceleration of gravity, which means that all buildings in Manila will have toppled down and the plant will still be standing. (2) That mountain there has not erupted in the last 50,000 years, is not likely to erupt in the future.  (3) Although we are situated on an earthquake belt, so is Japan and the Japanese have 24 nuclear plants, Taiwan has 4, South Korea has 8.

Question. Are any steps being made to look for a permanent storage place for radioactive wastes instead of just temporary ones?

DEL CALLAR.  There’s a committee looking for geologically stable places and the claim is that Mindoro and Palawan are suitable. But the Palawenos say no. In fact, the’re already complaining, first you gave us a leper colony, then a penal colony, then you gave us Pena, now you want to give us nuclear waste! No, it will not be in Palawan.

Now they’re saying that Tarlac and Zambales are also geologically stable places. I say it’s not that safe. You have the huge Pacific tectonic plate subducting against the Asian plate that produced the Himalayan mountains; you have the massive Euro-Asian plate and the Australian plate; all giant plates, with the Pacific plate, the side of most volcanic eruptions and giant earthquakes, forming a ‘circle of fire’. And in between these three huge plates is our very own, the Philippine plate, which we share with Japan. At the moment the Pacific plate is subducting under our plate in the Mindanao Deep (they subduct usually at deep deep ocean tenches).

So you have this small tectonic plate and you think you’ll find a geologically stable formation on that small tectonic plate? Impossible! Any big tectonic movement of any of these giant plates is liable to produce volcanic activity anywhere in the Philippines. . . . Volcanology is not an exact science. It cannot predict anything.

[“A Primer on Nuclear Power.”  Alternative Futures. Vol II. No 1. 1985.  27-32]

“I would request for a clean bill of health” #NoToBNPP


Professor of theoretical physics and the history of science
De La Salle University 

In physics, one of the first questions asked by man was, what ultimately is the material world made of? And the one who first answered it scientifically, although he did not have much of a mathematical background at the time (around 5 BC) was Democritus, a Greek. He said that ultimately all material things are made up of atoms and these are very small particles.

But that was forgotten for a while. After the Greek civilization came the Roman Empire with its soldiers and lawyers, people who weren’t interested in science. It wasn’t until 1910 in England that John Dalton, a chemist, remembered the early teaching of the Greeks and he was able to explain nicely the laws of chemistry by saying that chemical substances are made up of atomic elements joined together.

At Cambridge, John Thompson wanted to know more about these atoms. He bombarded some materials with electrons and came to the conclusion that atoms are made up of a positive core surrounded on the surface by small negative electrons.

Thompson had a brilliant student from New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford, who, like many brilliant students, didn’t just accept his professor’s words. He conducted his own experiments. He got very thin gold foil and he bombarded this with helium. He found that most of the helium particles went through the gold foil, some were deviated slightly, while others behaved like they encountered large positive charges  in the atom of the gold and were thus sent back. From which Rutherford concluded that the atom is made up of a nucleus, positively charged, surrounded by electrons, not on the surface, but away from the nucleus, and empty space between.

Rutherford, in turn, had a brilliant student, Niels Bohr, a Danish. Bohr continued the work and found that electrons go around the nucleus like planets go around the sun. That is the origin of our atomic picture.

In 1932 Chadwick of Cambridge discovered that in the nucleus there was not only the proton with positive charge, but also the neutron with zero charge. So now we picture the atom as having a nucleus with positive protons and neutral neutrons.

In 1935 a Japanese physicist said, ah yes, but why are they there? In other words, if the nucleus of the atom is made up only of positive charges, similar to each other, and neutral neutrons, what makes the positive neutrons stick together? Didn’t we learn in high school that opposite charges attract and similar charges repel? Why then are these protons with positive charges not repelling each other? So, he said, there must be another force inside the nucleus, greater than the electric force. This is the nuclear force.

In 1939 in Berlin two German chemists and an Austrian physicist stumbled upon nuclear fission. They were bombarding uranium ore with neutrons, hoping to make atoms bigger than uranium. (In the natural order of thins, uranium was the biggest atom, atomic number 92.) They thought that a uranium atom, if hit with a neutron, would become neptunium, and then plutonium, and lo and behold they’d be producing elements that are not found in nature. And while they were thus engaged in nuclear ballistics, they discovered that a certain type of uranium, about .7% of the uranium content of the ore, instead of getting bigger, fissions or splits.

And then Lisa Ratner, the Austrian physicist, had to run away from Berlin because she was a Jew. She fled to Copenhagen where she met with her nephew Otto Frisch, also a physicist, and together they performed the experiments, computed the results, then sent these to America, to Einstein and Fermi.

Einstein and Fermi again performed the experiments, again computed the results, and they agreed that indeed this was a tremendous amount of energy that could be produced and that this could become a weapon of war. And they knew that the Germans knew. Einstein then wrote to Roosevelt, suggested that the President see if a weapon could be produced ahead of the Germans. Fortunately the Germans never produced an atomic bomb. Heisenberg refused to give Hitler the knowledge he had (which is one of the nicest things about the German scientists of the time).

And so the war ended in Europe with Germany surrendering. But there was still Japan in the Pacific to tackle. The Americans had two bombs, a uranium-235 bomb and a plutonium-239 bomb. Whether wise or not, these two bombs were unloaded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One killed 80,000, the other 100,000. After that, people became horrified. In 1945 the Atomic Energy for Peace movement began.

But reactors were built anyway. The first ones to produce more bombs, the next ones for research. In the 1950s we were offered a research reactor by the Americans, the reactor we have now in Diliman, first put into operation in 1963. It produces radioactive substances needed for medicine, agriculture, and so on.

Mind you, at the time there was also a lot of protests against the reactor. They said it would blow up like a bomb, that it would cause radiation and kill everybody in the U.P., and we said it would not and it didn’t.

Question: You’re not against the nuclear power plant then?

In principle, no. But I would request for a clean bill of health. Let’s make sure it’s safe within reasonable risk. Then let’s have public hearings. We cannot avoid it any longer. And if we cannot convince our people of the safety of the reactor, then the people’s wishes must be followed.

[Source: “A Primer on Nuclear Power.” Alternative Futures.  Vol II. No 1. 1985.  27-32]

even marcos was stopped by safety concerns #NoToBNPP

last night i caught the start of ANC’s square off debate on the bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), the host opining that no one who had anything to do with it back in the 70s and 80s seems to be around any longer, so here we go with a student debate, and the pro-BNPP kids proceeded to make mincemeat of the anti-BNPP kids particularly on questions over the integrity of the structure and oh-what-a-waste of good money when nuclear energy is so clean compared to coal blah blah blah.

it was painful to watch, the anti-BNPP kids obviously not having done enough research to be convincing, and i didn’t stay.  but i returned at the end of the hour to hear the final verdict by three judges in robes (some 10, maybe 20 years older) who announced that the pro-BNPP kids were sooo galing, even they had been convinced by the arguments, hurray.

in aid of informed debate, my next three posts are on the BNPP, also known as the philippine nuclear power plant-1 (PNPP-1 — marcos had planned for two nuclear plants).  these are excerpts from “A Primer on Nuclear Power” based on transcripts of a panel discussion of experts that environmentalist maximo “junie” kalaw‘s philippine institute of alternative futures (PIAF) and physicist and geodetic engineer celso roque’s haribon gathered together in a public forum at the height of demonstrations for a nuclear-free philippines in 1985.

the first is by dr. salvador gonzalez, de la salle university professor of theoretical physics, who tells how mankind stumbled on nuclear energy; he is not against the nuclear power plant in principle but requests a clean bill of health.  the second is by dr. achilles del callar, nuclear engineer, dean of the college of science of adamson university, who tells of serious safety concerns, including leaking tubes, and the hopeless search for geologically stable sites for the storage of radioactive waste.  the third by dr. ruben umali, radiation biologist of UP, tells of the lack of research on how sensitive Philippine flora, fauna, and marine life are to radiation, and how we therefore have no way of detecting radioactive leakages.

even marcos, powerful and astig as he was, did not have the guts to shrug off concerns not just about whether the plant is structurally sound and capable of withstanding major earthquakes and/or eruptions of volcanos nearby, but also about the nuclear reactor’s technical defects that even westinghouse could not deny, and the huge problem of where to put the radioactive waste.  we would be very foolish, crazy, hare-brained to trust duterte’s energy sec alfonso cusi who is just another oligarch pala with the skimpiest science background but who dares tread where even marcos dared not.

so it’s not true that cory was just being vindictive when she ordered that the BNPP be mothballed.  if she had been truly vindictive she would not have ordered that the debts incurred be paid with public monies — she would have told the foreign banks to go make singil marcos and his cronies instead.