The Future Prospects of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

Mixkaela Villalon explores the state of the two billion-dollar plant to see whether it should be brought to life or left for dead

by Rogue, photo by At Maculangan

The idle facility was meant to usher in a new era of power—instead, it’s been relegated to an artifact, buried under years of red tape and unchecked fear. In light of the looming energy crisis and ever-mounting costs, Mixkaela Villalon explores the state of the two billion-dollar plant to see whether it should be brought to life or left for dead

The control room of the plant. Much of the technology here is analog and will have to be replaced if the plant will be revived.

In Morong, Bataan, surrounded by the crashing waves of the West Philippine Sea and the ghostly outline of Mount Mariveles, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant slumbers.

It has done so since its completion in 1984, dreaming of what it could have been, the catalyst meant to launch the Philippines into the nuclear age and economic prosperity.

Instead it sits idle, its heavy machinery and equipment—all state of the art in the 80s—have long been overtaken by the continuous march of technology. Its corridors and work spaces built to accommodate at least 400 workers lie quiet. It’s sweltering in here. The air is still and smells faintly metallic. Only the low hum of emergency lights can be heard throughout the plant, punctuated by the lonely footsteps of the occasional guard walking through the rooms to check that nothing disturbs the mausoleum-like stillness.

Outside the plant, the world rages. For over 30 years, the fate of the 369-hectare property has been hotly debated. Inquiries regarding the plant’s safety features, the advantages and risks of nuclear power, and the mark of late President Ferdinand Marcos’s corruption have stalled the plant’s future prospects. For now, the powers that be seem content enough to leave the sleeping giant alone.

Engineer Mauro Marcelo of the National Power Corporation (NPC) believes it is high time to talk about the BNPP again as we experience particularly high electricity prices and a looming energy crisis similar to 1991. Marcelo joined the NPC in 1978, hoping to be one of the country’s pioneers for nuclear energy. Today, he remains at the power plant as the assets preservation and department manager, briefing tourists and ensuring that the plant is in its best condition if and when the Philippine government decides to turn it on.

A year after Marcelo’s hiring, President Marcos suspended the BNPP’s construction because of the partial nuclear meltdown in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania in the United States. The worst accident in US commercial power plant history threw a wrench in the BNPP’s construction because it shared the same design and equipment by Westinghouse Electric. Commissions to evaluate the BNPP’s safety and public hearings soon followed. The plant’s original design was updated and construction resumed in 1981. These upgrades, Marcelo informs, justifies the additional $369 million spent on the power plant. This is on top of the estimated $2.1 billion initial cost to build the BNPP.