Geological Hazards of the Bataan Nuclear Plant: Propaganda and Scientific Fact
Kelvin S. Rodolfo
Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago
Corresponding Member, National Academy of Science and Technology
20 July 2010
The activation of the Bataan plant poses the greatest threat to the well-being of the
Filipino people and their environment in my quarter century of natural-hazard scientific
experience. And the natural dangers are being greatly compounded by nuclear proponents of
great influence who know little geology. They select “facts” that defend the safety of the
plant site, and ignore “inconvenient” scientific truths that are easily available and verifiable.
This is not only dismissive of the dangers to the people, it is a great disrespect and disdain for
Foremost among these BNPP advocates is Congressman Marcos Cojuangco, the
author of the House bill “Mandating the Immediate Rehabilitation, Commissioning, and
Commercial Operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant”. His Explanatory Note for the
bill displays a glaring lack of information about the geological hazards. He knew so little
about volcanoes that in his Bill he located Natib volcano “ten kilometers (10 km) from the
Mt. Natib constitutes more than the entire northern half of the Bataan Peninsula
(Figure 1). Its base is below sea level. The BNPP site is on the flank of the volcano, at Napot
Point. Like Mt. Pinatubo, this volcano is “calderagenic”, meaning that its eruptions are
characteristically widely separated in time, but very violent, and leave a large caldera or
depression at its summit. Natib has two calderas; one elongated in the north-south direction,
7.5 kilometers long by 5 kilometers wide. It has a second, circular caldera, 2 kilometers in
diameter, about the same size as the one produced at the Pinatubo summit during its 1991
eruption. If caldera size is a measure of eruption power, the one that produced the large
Natib caldera was much stronger than Pinatubo 1991.
Mr. Cojuangco and his allies often extol the safety of the plant by saying that it
withstood the 1990 Luzon quake and the 1991 Pinatubo eruption. Shaking an operating
megawatt nuclear plant is entirely another matter.
The BNPP sits on the coast, because to operate it would require great volumes of
seawater flowing through it to cool not only the reactor, but also the spent fuel rods.
Spent fuel pools
Mr. Cojuangco and his allies should augment their biased, pro-nuclear reading with a
2003 article by Robert Alvarez and others: “Reducing the hazards from stored spent powerreactor
fuel in the United States”1.
FIGURE 1. The Bataan peninsula is entirely composed of two large volcanoes. More than
half, its northern part, is Mt. Natib; the southern portion is Mt. Mariveles. Mt. Natib has two
“calderas” or large depressions at its summit. The older one is 5 x 7 kilometers in size and
drains westward into Subic Bay. The younger one is smaller and circular, 2 kilometers in
diameter, similar in size to the one formed on Pinatubo during its 1991 eruption.
Another “must read” by conscientious proponents, and anyone who simply wants to
know the scientific facts, is the June 25, 2005 Council on Foreign Relations discussion, “Are
Nuclear Spent Fuel Pools Secure?2. Quoting that report:
“Nuclear fuel becomes spent, or used, after it has been in a reactor for between about
4.5 and 6 years. The fuel is not actually exhausted at this point, but is no longer an
economically viable heat source. Every 18 to 24 months about a third of the fuel of an
operating commercial nuclear reactor is removed. The fuel is highly radioactive and
continues to produce a large amount of heat through radioactive decay, called ‘decay heat,’
after its removal.”
The spent fuel rods must be kept immersed in a pool of water, typically 40 by 40 feet
in area and 40 feet deep, in which the radiation from the rods is absorbed and transformed
into heat. Millions of gallons of water must flow through the plant every day not only to cool
the reactor core, but also the spent-fuel pool. Even if an eruption was predicted in time to
shut the reactor down, it would not be possible to evacuate the spent fuel rods. Interruption
of that water supply could be catastrophic.
A disruption would not be very difficult: Failure of a pump or valve, rupture of a
pipe, an inattentive or sleepy technician, an electrical brownout or power surge… Not much
of a task for an even moderate earthquake, let alone an eruption. Taiwan scientists Chang-
Hwa Chen and J.J.-S. Shen have pointed out that undersea volcanic eruptions generate large
quantities of floating pumice that could easily clog the seawater intakes of nuclear plants3.
Huge quantities of low-density pumice fell on Zambales, Bataan and Subic Bay during the
1991 Pinatubo eruption, and we are very fortunate that the BNPP was not operating.
The spent fuel rods are armored with a zirconium alloy. If the pool water were lost,
the armor of the newest spent-fuel assembly would ignite, and in turn could ignite adjacent
fuel assemblies. Once started, the fire would be virtually impossible to put out. Spraying it
with water would only make it worse, because even more heat is generated when zirconium
reacts with steam. A fire and explosion in the spent fuel storage pool could release huge
volumes of radioactive gases to the atmosphere, including much radioactive cesium-137,
which is water-soluble and extremely toxic in minute amounts.
An aside: As a Zambaleňo and friend of Olongapo and the Subic Bay Metropolitan
Authority, I am concerned about the impact of millions of gallons of seawater heated and
released every day, on Subic Bay and adjacent coastal environments and ecosystems should
BNPP be operated. Does an Environmental Impact Statement for BNPP include an
evaluation of such questions?
Mr. Cojuangco must have learned a few things from the seminars on nuclear power
he attended early this year at the National Institute of Geological Sciences. He no longer
repeats some of his many naïve but widely proclaimed ideas, for example, that the BNPP is
more than ten kilometers away from Mt. Natib.
But the Congressman is bound and determined that the plant must be refurbished and
operated, come what may, so it is left to others to declare the safety of the site. Most of
these nuclear apologists, including prominent media commentators and government figures,
clearly know no more geology than the congressman does, and repeat many of his naive
statements, including some that he has abandoned.
For example: his mistaken notion that the farthest a volcanic mass can travel is six
times the elevation of the volcano, repeated recently by Prof. Solita Monsod on GMA Ch7.
Geologists will recognize this as a misuse of a ratio that they use to estimate how far a
landslide can travel.
During an eruption, pyroclastic flows --- dense mixtures of explosion debris and very
hot gases -- can surge great distances down the volcano flanks at hurricane speeds, searing
and obliterating everything in their paths. These are not landslides!
We have documented4 one such prehistoric pyroclastic flow from Mt. Natib that
entered Subic Bay sometime between 11,000 and 18,000 years ago. Contrary to Mr.
Cojuangco’s misreading of our research, that event can by no means be assumed to have
occurred during Natib’s latest eruption.
A much more thoughtful Congressman, Hon. Roilo Golez, has cautioned that the
risks are magnified by a national lack of a “culture of safety that is observed in Japan, the
United States and Western Europe”. The BNPP has been cursed with that lack from the very
beginning. It continues to this day.
Cojuangco’s casual dismissal of the geohazards at Napot Point carries on the hurried
carelessness exercised by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who decided to build nuclear
reactors in 1973 and forced the construction to begin in 1976, even before the natural hazards
had been properly assessed. That task should have taken at least five years, but dictators are
not patient. That task remains unfinished to this day.
The Hernandez-Santos 1977 report
On 12 January 1977, after the BNPP construction had already started, Nuclear
Technologist III Elmer C. Hernandez and Senior Nuclear Technologist Gabriel Santos, Jr.
submitted an 8-page internal report on the geohazards at the BNPP site5. Hernandez and
Santos were true heroes, their concern for the well-being of the public outweighing the risk
of dictatorial displeasure Excerpts from that report are alarming:
“1. The proposed site … is very near the Manila Trench – Luzon Trough tectonic
“2. The proposed site is literally bracketed by significant and very strong (high
magnitude) historical earthquakes…within a 100 kilometer radius. In fact…one … occurred
(1970) within 1-2 km of the proposed site itself in Napot Point.
“3. The probability of an epicenter of an earthquake occurring at the site is
unacceptably very high. Covering a span of 74 years, 49 significant earthquakes occurred in
the above area, one of which one occurred within 1-2 kilometers of the proposed site
“4. Known significant and major earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 8 were
apparently overlooked and not considered in the computation of the shutdown earthquake
“5. Earth satellite data… suggest the presence of a lineament in the site itself.
Ground magnetometer data… appear to substantiate the existence of a probable fault at the
proposed plant location.”
Hernandez and Santos concluded: “… The above review has revealed the high risk
potential for the protection of health and safety of the public if the proposed site is accepted.
High probability earth motions associated with earthquakes due to the Manila Trench – West
Luzon Trough displacements and presence of a probable fault in the plant location itself may
lend to structural failures causing the release of radioactive materials from the nuclear power
plant or may cause extensive damage to the plant.”
But Marcos was not to be denied, and the construction continued.
The 1979 Sonido report
Nevertheless, the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission must have been concerned
enough to ask Prof. Ernesto Sonido, the geophysicist of the UP-Diliman Department of
Geology and Geography, to investigate the site further. On 25 January 1979 he submitted his
report to PAEC6.
Apparently, NPC had cut trenches through a postulated fault and reported no
evidence of faulting in them “without considering the difficulty of detecting faults in thick
overburden and easily ‘healable’ rocks exposed in the trenches.”
Dr. Sonido mentioned numerous mistakes by NPC, including a 90° error in the given
direction of a trench. He also remarked several times that much field information had
already been destroyed or obscured by the ongoing construction.
Nevertheless, Dr. Sonido and Mr. John Palmer, the groundwater consultant of the
contractor firm Ebasco, agreed on site that “the postulated fault is a fault zone with a width
equal to the width of [a] river [south of Napot Point?] and that the existing river is along the
fault...“ Numerous seepages along fractures in otherwise impermeable rocks, and variable
depths of a ‘tuff’ horizon in more than 30 boreholes at the plant site “…suggest that the area
had been tectonically active…”.
The Post-Chernobyl Government Studies of the BNPP
After the Aquino administration mothballed the nuclear plant following the
Chernobyl disaster, the Presidential Committee on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant (PCPNPP)
commissioned NUS Corporation, a U.S. nuclear consultancy firm, to manage a
technical audit of the BNPP. NUS assembled a multidisciplinary team of over 15 nuclear
experts from the US, Germany, Brazil, South Korea and Japan to evaluate the field
implementation of the plant design, quality assurance and control, and construction practices.
A technical audit of the BNPP was also commissioned by a Senate Ad-Hoc
Committee on the BNPP. From 1988 to 1990 over 50 nuclear experts from the US and
Europe made a much more extensive audit that cost the government $10 million. The study
was kept confidential because of the pending litigation vs Westinghouse, who constructed the
plant. Its many volumes remain locked up in the Senate vaults.
According to Nicanor Perlas, who was a technical consultant for both studies, the
experts concluded that the project’s Quality Assurance Program was sloppy and below
regulatory standards7. Thus, it was impossible to determine if the strict specifications for
constructing a nuclear plant were met.
Perlas says that the studies should be made fully available to the public to save much
unnecessary and expensive duplication. After all, the Filipino taxpayers paid for them, and
are entitled to their full perusal and proper use.
But it now turns out, mysteriously, that neither the Senate nor Malacaňang can find
the voluminous reports of these studies8.
The 1986 Fortune Magazine article
Fortunately, many of the details in those missing reports should contain were
published by Fortune Magazine in 19869, while memories of the the BNPP project were still
fresh. Anyone who wishes to comment on the safety of the BNPP owes it to the public to
The article relates in horrifying, sometimes amusing detail, the feeding frenzy of
American companies and Marcos cronies alike, over the billions of dollars involved. It also
tells how “… in March 1976, Westinghouse began clearing the site before Napocor had a
construction permit from the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission”, and how Ebasco
contractors “were still performing on-site tests to determine whether the site was safe.
“... The work began so early that the bulldozers rumbling around the site interfered
with the seismic tests… Librado Ibe, the Philippine regulator, says Westinghouse rushed into
construction because National Power and Marcos wanted the plant built quickly.”
Apologists now deny the numerous allegations of carelessness during construction.
But the Fortune article also details serious quality issues that were raised by IAEA
technicians. Please keep in mind spent-fuel pools and the large flow of cooling seawater they
need, as you read this long excerpt:
“Of the experts who were at the plant during construction, the most persuasive
witness is William Albert, the IAEA adviser. Albert spent 18 years with the NRC and its
predecessor, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, before retiring this year. NRC safety
specialists describe him as one of the best inspectors the agency ever had. He spent 3 1/2
years in the Philippines -- from July 1979 to July 1981 and from October 1983 to March
“Westinghouse itself recommended Albert to FORTUNE as a competent expert who
paid close attention to what happened at the plant. Albert does not say the plant is hopelessly
flawed. Indeed, he argues that Aquino should fix it and put it in operation. But he says it
could conceivably cost hundreds of millions of dollars to do that. To know for sure, he says,
would require a detailed inspection by a team of 40 to 50 specialists.
“One major problem Albert describes involves welds in a system of thousands of
hangers for water pipes that snake throughout the plant. A badly welded hanger could allow a
pipe to burst, causing a major accident or the failure of an essential safety system. The
welders at the Philippine plant, Albert charges, broke many rules of the trade.
“Welders use a metal called weld rod, which in humid Bataan must be kept dry
because moisture can cause a seam to crack. To keep the rod dry, welders store it in a small,
box-shaped electric oven that is supposed to be plugged in at all times. But the welders at the
plant often played a game: They would see how long they could fool inspectors by keeping
their ovens unplugged. Albert says the welders did not want to bother stringing extension
cords to the ovens.
“Albert adds that welders worked around the clock when Westinghouse sped up
construction at the plant. He came upon one welder who had been on the job for 26 hours.
‘They let me get an hour of sleep now and then,’ the worker explained. Says Albert: ‘There's
no way a welder can work for 26 hours straight and do quality work.’
“Westinghouse insists that it has checked all the welds and verified that they are fine.
But that is difficult to prove since record keeping at the plant was sloppy. An inspector on the
site found couplings in a cooling-tower fan that were grossly misaligned. When he checked
the records, he found the paperwork for couplings that had been properly installed, but not
for those that were bungled. Westinghouse concedes that quality was sometimes hard to
monitor because reports were illegible.
“Albert also criticizes the work on base plates that hold pipe hangers in place. Each
hanger is attached to a metal plate, which in turn is bolted to the concrete walls, ceilings, or
floors. Albert says many of these plates were installed so badly that they were not flush to the
surface. Bolts holding the plates frequently did not grip the concrete and twisted continuously
if turned. If plates broke away from the wall during an earthquake, Albert says, pipes could
fly around the plant like loose fire hoses.
“Some pipes are meant to move because they must flex as the pressure or temperature
in them rises and falls. Albert says plates and hangers that are supposed to allow movement
were sometimes badly aligned, preventing the pipes from shifting freely. In other instances
plates designed to move were bolted fast to the floor. Albert pointed this out to
Westinghouse, he says, ‘and they accepted it as is.’
“An IAEA team that inspected the plant in June 1984 noted that many valves
controlling water flow were poorly marked or unmarked. Albert says the valves were still
poorly marked in February 1985, after Westinghouse had pronounced the plant complete. He
adds that workers blithely twisted valves with tags on them saying DO NOT OPERATE. A
worker caught tampering with a valve in a U.S. nuclear plant would be fired.
“During the rainy season, underground conduits and vaults carrying electrical cables
between buildings fill with water. Westinghouse says the flooding was expected and is not a
problem. The cables running between buildings, it says, are designed to operate under water.
Another safety expert from the IAEA who was on the scene to advise the Philippine Atomic
Energy Commission disagrees. He is Lucian Vorderbrueggen, an electrical engineer who
recently retired from his job as a senior safety inspector with the NRC. ‘Cable is not designed
to be constantly submerged,’ he says, explaining that the insulation could eventually break
down and the cable short-circuit, cutting off power to safety equipment.
“Vorderbrueggen, who was at the plant until last September, says the underground
vaults were badly built and leak constantly. To repair them properly, he says, would require
major redesign and rebuilding. He adds that Westinghouse did nothing about the leaking in
most of the vaults, but dealt with the problem in a couple of them by trying to seal them and
putting in sump pumps, which he calls ‘a real Band-Aid fix.’ Says Vorderbrueggen: ‘In the
U.S. (the NRC) would say, 'Fix it right or we won't license the plant.' ‘
“Albert attributes all these problems to a breakdown in quality control. Westinghouse
had a quality control staff of 45 persons at peak construction. Albert estimates that its two
principal subcontractors, Disini's Power Contractors Inc. and Miescor, a company controlled
by a brother of Imelda Marcos, had 40 or more. National Power had 30, plus five Ebasco
experts to advise them. And the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission had two inspectors
who visited the site occasionally and eight advisers like Albert who were there under the
aegis of the IAEA.
“Why couldn't all those inspectors ensure that the work was done right? Witnesses
disagree. Albert says Westinghouse had the final authority on how problems were resolved,
and some of its inspectors would not take the necessary corrective action. ‘They couldn't
have cared less,’ he says. Josue Polintan, the National Power senior vice president in charge
of the plant, agrees that quality control was poor but says the Westinghouse inspectors were
not to blame. ‘If the guys at Westinghouse found out about it,’ he says, ‘they would try to fix
the problems, but their workers would try to cover up and Westinghouse couldn't possibly
catch it all.’
“Albert claims that Westinghouse officials routinely took too little action in response
to complaints from its subcontractors and National Power inspectors. He says much of the
clout National Power had came through the Atomic Energy Commission, which had the final
say about whether the plant was acceptable. As a result, National Power inspectors would
sometimes ask the commission to intervene when Westinghouse did not heed complaints
from the utility. But even that often failed. ‘If you got Westinghouse to say they would do
something, usually something would be done,’ says Albert. ‘But whether it was satisfactory
was another matter.’
“In 1979 Albert reported to Westinghouse that workers were not heating highcarbon-
steel reinforcing rods in the concrete structure before welding them. Failure to heat
the rods increases the risk that the welds will crack. Albert says Westinghouse agreed to
teach the welders how to do the job right. When he returned to the site over four years later,
however, they still weren't heating the rods. ‘The only difference,’ he says, ‘was that they
“Westinghouse appears to have solved some deficiencies by rewriting specifications.
Paul van Gemst, a Swedish engineer on loan to the IAEA from ASEA-ATOM, a company
that builds nuclear plants, says commission employees told him that was how Westinghouse
cured the problems with the base plates for the pipe support brackets. ‘Westinghouse tried to
recalculate the hangers and base plates to prove that they did meet specifications,’ says van
Gemst. ‘When they failed to meet the specs, Westinghouse modified them.’ Westinghouse
acknowledges that it changed specifications for base plates and hangers, but says design
engineers certified that the new specs met design requirements.
“In disputing the charges of construction flaws, Westinghouse relies heavily on
reports made in February 1985 by an IAEA inspection team and the Philippine Atomic
Energy Commission's technical staff. Westinghouse says both groups concluded that the
plant ‘meets international safety standards followed by 26 nations’ and was ready for core
“The commission staff report does not provide the endorsement Westinghouse
describes. The staff said that National Power and Westinghouse had all their paperwork in
order, so the commission could begin considering the application for an operating license.
The report added that several safety issues still had to be resolved before the nuclear fuel
could be loaded.
“The IAEA report that Westinghouse cites was a follow-up to a report by another
IAEA team that found a morass of defects in June 1984. ‘In the past,’ the 1984 IAEA team
said, ‘quality assurance in construction work showed major weaknesses, as was indicated by
generic deficiencies, which went undetected for a long time, especially in respect of weldingrod
control, cable pulling, and valve installations. The result was a deterioration in the work
quality on-site.’ The 1985 report indicates that the problems had been solved and concludes
that ‘there is no technical obstacle’ to loading fuel and running the plant.
“How could two IAEA teams, both led by the agency's safety director, Morris Rosen,
arrive at such different conclusions just eight months apart? For one thing, a construction
expert on the 1984 team who was critical of the plant, William Ang of the NRC, was not on
the 1985 team. Apart from an engineer who visited in 1984 and found some continuing
problems with the electrical cables when he returned in 1985, the members of the second
team were not construction experts. They specialized in such areas as training and radiation
“Albert maintains, and other NRC safety experts agree, that the IAEA team could not
possibly have done a thorough inspection in the week it spent at the plant. He also says that
many problems cited by the 1984 team still existed a month after the 1985 team had left.
Rosen refuses to say what the second team did to reexamine the problems reported by the
1984 team. ‘I won't comment on specifics,’ he says. ‘These are very technical. People
involved at the plant say nothing was wrong with it’”.
The Ruaya-Panem 1991 study of the large Natib caldera
In the late 1980s, J. R. Ruaya and C. C. Panem of the Philippine National Oil
Corporation published research conducted on numerous hot springs emanating from many
faults within the large Mt. Natib caldera (Figure 2)10. Their geochemical research indicated a
subsurface heat source “greater than 200°C”. This is much more activity than Pinatubo
exhibited before its world-class 1991 eruption.
FIGURE 2. The summit calderas of Mt. Natib. Modified from Ruaya and Panem,199110.
The 1992 Torres report
While Dr. Ronnie Torres, a foremost pyroclastic-flow expert was still at Phivolcs, and
before he left for the University of Hawaii, he warned of volcanism and faulting at the site, in
a 1992 report.11 Quoting Dr. Torres: “Natib volcano does not erupt very often but could still
erupt [emphasis mine].”
The Sonido-Umbal 2000 Report to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority
Dr. Ernesto Sonido collaborated with Mr. Jesse Umbal in 2000 to submit a detailed
analysis for SBMA of the geology and geohazards of the Subic Bay area.12 Jess Umbal is
one of the brightest, most competent volcanologists and geologists I know. Working with me
during the Pinatubo eruption, he earned his Masters degree at the University of Illinois in
1993. Dr. Sonido is not a volcanologist, so we can assume that Umbal wrote those aspects in
the report, which adjudged Natib as “potentially active”.
The report analyzes the configurations of the two calderas at the summit of Mt. Natib,
and concludes that the smaller caldera is younger, made by a later eruption, because it
disrupts the rim of the larger caldera. By the same simple reasoning, we can tell which of
two overlapping footprints in mud came last.
Sonido and Umbal also studied the system of faults exposed on land in the larger
region. They estimated the recurrence period for earthquakes of Magnitude 6.4 to 7.0 at 22
years; of Magnitude 7.0 to 7.3 at 59 years; and of Magnitude 7.3 to 8.2 at 157 years.
The Cabato et al. 2005 article
In 1997, Ms. Joan Cabato and Dr. Fernando Siringan of the National Institute of
Geological Sciences of UP Diliman and I, collaborating with the Mines and Geosciences
Bureau and the National Power Corp., initiated a geophysical study of the marine geology of
Subic Bay (Figure 3)4. The study was supported as “due diligence” hazard evaluation by then
SBMA Chairman Richard J. Gordon.
From a slowly moving boat or ship, we gathered 125 kilometers of “seismic
reflection” data. That method puts powerful pulses of low-frequency sound into the water
that passes down through it and into the layers of sediment below the sea floor. Some of the
sound is reflected back upwards from the different sediment layers, and is collected by
hydrophones trailing behind the boat. Much as if we took an X-ray, electronic equipment
automatically uses the returned signals to make a detailed picture of the structure underlying
the sea, in our case down to a depth of about 120 meters.
Our work underwent rigorous scrutiny by our geological peers in the Philippines and
abroad, before it was published in the international Journal of Asian Earth Sciences4. It
earned a Masters degree for Joan Cabato, a very bright young woman who recently earned
her doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
Quite by accident, we discovered a large mass of sediment that can only be explained
as the underwater deposit of a large pyroclastic flow from the large Natib caldera that
occurred sometime between 11,000 and 18,000 years ago.
The Explanatory Note to Congressman Cojuangco’s Bill wrongly uses that date for
Natib’s latest eruption:
“Top geologists have evaluated Bataan and, with the exception of Mt. Natib which is a
dormant volcano whose last eruption was estimated to have been between 11.3 to 18
thousand years ago (Cabato et al. 2005) and which is ten kilometers (10 km) from the BNPP,
could find no anomalies in locating the plant there.”
FIGURE 3. Faults and earthquakes in the vicinity of Subic Bay, northwest of Mt. Natib. Left:
White lines on land are documented or suspected faults on land. Solid lines in the bay are
submarine faults; the U and D notations indicate the sides of each fault that moved up or
down relative to the other side. The circles denote earthquake epicenters and their senses of
displacement. Right: Vertical cross sections, showing buried faults in the bay. Modified from
Cabato et al., 20054.
A systematic study of Natib itself could find evidence of even younger eruptions. In
fact, the smaller caldera disrupts the rim of the larger one, thus must have been formed by a
Cojuangco ignored the principal finding of our survey: that faults in Subic Bay are
active roughly every 2,000 years, and that the last episode of faulting took place about 3,000
years ago. When one of the faults is active, one side of it moves up or down vertically as
much as 5 meters relative to the other side. Our data cannot tell how much horizontal
movement occurred. We also cannot say whether such movements are rapid enough to
generate tsunamis, but this is a genuine possibility.
A similar marine seismic-reflection survey needs to be conducted south of Subic Bay
and Mt. Natib, to determine the presence or absence of similar faults. My understanding is
that UP professors Mahar Lagmay and Fernando Siringan have proposed to conduct this
work. In March, 2009 Congress approved a bill designating P100 million for such studies,
but the funds have not yet materialized, or have instead been given to the KEPCO, the
Korean Electric Power Company, which operates two reactors sister to BNPP and is offering
to renovate it. Without funding, Dr. Lagmay and other volunteer geologists have been
studying the environs of BNPP for several months, and have documented much evidence for
On the nature of faulting and earthquakes
Widely publicized statements by Cojuangco and his allies declaring the BNPP site to
be fault-free and therefore safe are not only wrong, they mislead the general public about the
earthquake hazard. In the first place,
For example, Manileňos need to know that a major earthquake on the West Marikina
Valley fault would probably be most damaging not along the fault zone itself, but in places
built on natural and artificial bay fill kilometers away, including Tondo and the Asia Mall.
The earthquake damage directly along the trace of a fault is usually minor compared to the
total damage in the affected area.
We must remember that the great 1990 earthquake in Nueva Ecija greatly damaged
Baguio and Dagupan, cities 100 kilometers away from the epicenter.
Any college student in an introductory geology course knows that earthquakes
usually occur in a fault zone along new breaks called “rogue faults”. The 1990 magnitude
7.8 earthquake centered beneath Rizal, Nueva Ecija created entirely new breaks in the
ground. So the lack of a fault trace at any earthquake-prone locality does not mean that an
earthquake cannot occur there.
Thus, the great attention Cojuangco and his geologist ally, Dr. Carlo Arcilla, Director
of the U.P. National Instutute of Geological Sciences, are paying to the search for a fault
under the BNPP is very strange.
This obsession with faults directly under the BNPP, and frequent statements by
Cojuangco and allies including UP professsors Carlo Arcilla and Solita Monsod that Japan is
volcanic and earthquake-prone and yet very much powered by nuclear reactors, ignore the
lessons of the July 6, 2007 Niigataken Chuetsu-oki earthquake.
The July 2007 earthquake and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station in Japan
The magnitude 6.6 earthquake (Figure 4) occurred 17 km below the surface, its focus 23 km
offshore from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station14,15,16. This nuclear facility,
the largest in the world with a 60.5 trillion watt-hour peak annual output – more than 1,200
times the total Philippine consumption – has been shut down ever since.
The earthquake was generated by a “reverse” or “thrust” fault. The motion occurred
when a block of offshore crust was suddenly forced underneath the landward crust on which
the K-KNPS sits, pushing it upwards. Such motion against the pull of gravity causes more
damage than the sideways motions caused by an earthquake of equivalent magnitude along
faults like the Philippine Fault.
FIGURE 4. The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station and the 16 July 2007
magnitude 6.8 Niigataken Chuetsu-oki earthquake. Left, a pre-earthquake geological
offshore survey recognized four short earthquake traces numbered F-A to F-D. Fault F-B, 7
kilometers long, was mistakenly adjudged to be inactive. After the earthquake, it was more
than three times longer (red lines). The earthquake occurred on a plane dipping
southeastward from F-B underneath the K-KNPS (modified from Takekuro, 200816). Right,
ground rupture at the K-KNPS. From Cyranoski, 200714 .
Major earthquakes generated along the Manila Trench are also reverse faults. The
motion from such an earthquake at the BNPP would also be upwards. Direct evidence of
fault displacement could be entirely missing at the BNPP itself, because it would occur many
kilometers below the surface. The right panel of Figure 4 shows that the Niigataken
Chuetsu-oki earthquake did cause ground rupture at the K-KNPS, but this was caused not
directly by fault displacement, but by earthquake waves propagating through the site. This
picture demonstrates that nobody can guarantee that the BNPP is immune from ground
rupture from earthquakes, as Cojuangco claims Phivolcs has assured him.
The Japanese, as industrially advanced as they are, do make huge mistakes, such as
building the K-KNPS in the first place. Quoting the IAEA15. “The … levels of seismic
ground motion estimated in the design process were very significantly exceeded by the
event... the newly calculated seismic hazard at the site is much higher than both the July 2007
event and the original design earthquake level.”
K-KNPS has had serious problems before14. After deliberately falsified data were
discovered in September 2002, all seven reactors were shut down. Units 1, 2, and 3
generated no electricity during the entire 2003 fiscal year, so the station produced only a third
of its capacity.
So much also for Cojuangco’s frequent claim that nuclear energy is reliable and safe.
The BNPP advocacy of Dr. Carlo Arcilla
It is painful to write the following, because Carlo Arcilla is not only a colleague, but
an old friend and former student as well. I served on both his Masters and Doctoral
committees at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But our relationship is far outweighed by
the safety of many Filipinos, and by my inflexible commitment to the honest use of science.
Dr. Arcilla’s statements, although seriously mistaken, carry undeserved weight by virtue of
his directorship of UP-NIGS.
Dr. Arcilla first publicly and categorically declared that the BNPP was safe and had
no fault near it before he even knew where the plant was situated, in a presentation at the
June 2005 Asia Oceania Geosciences Society meeting in Singapore. It can be accessed on the
Internet17. Slide 30 of that presentation says: "No direct evidence of fault running across
facility" and "Latest satellite data suggest also no large structures directly located at nuclear
But his Slide 34, based on a terrain diagram he acquired from Prof. Mahar Lagmay
that is supposed to back up those statements, mistakenly located the BNPP about 8
kilometers up the coast (Figure 5). The red lineaments in the diagram are suspected faults;
the westernmost one passes right through the correct Napot Point site. This is may be the
same one referred to in 1977 by Hernandez and Santos5 and by Sonido in 19796.
The diagram also erroneously locates Pinatubo much too far to the south. Pinatubo
does not abut Natib and drain into Subic Bay; the volcanoes are separated by about 17
kilometers of intervening Quaternary volcanic terrain, which in the diagram is mistakenly
labeled as Pinatubo.
FIGURE 2. Slide 34 of Arcilla’s 2005 presentation17, a satellite-derived terrain diagram
provided by Dr. Mahar Lagmay. I have properly labeled the actual position of Napot Point,
where the BNPP is situated. The volcanic complex north of Mt. Natib is improperly labeled
Pinatubo, which is actually 17 kilometers to the north.
Dr. Arcilla showed his predisposition in favor of the BNPP in an Inquirer interview18
he gave Tonette Orejas on January 21 when he accompanied Cojuangco to the Congressional
“ocular inspection” of the BNPP.
“Arcilla, director of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of
the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, said the BNPP is not located near a fault.
"’There is no fault near here [There’s no fault near here],’" Arcilla said, addressing an
important issue that had hounded the BNPP since its construction in 1976.
“An independent study he is starting would confirm that information, Arcilla said.
“The plant’s location near Mt. Natib, he said, would not be a problem.”
These statements were too momentous to take at face value; my wife and I verified
them by listening to Orejas’ tape of the interview.
Is it surprising, then, that an electrical-resistivity survey Arcilla conducted later
confirmed his prejudgment by finding no evidence of a fault?
An electrical-resistivity survey cannot definitively rule out the presence of a fault, Dr.
Arcilla’s pronouncements to the contrary. The direct evidence presented by Hernandez and
Santos in 19775 and Sonido in 19796 is much more meaningful.
At the House Appropriations Committee hearing on the BNPP in February, Arcilla
cited as evidence for the lack of faulting at Napot Point its absence in the MGB fault map.
Unfortunately, Prof. Solita Monsod echoed that argument on nationwide GMA Ch 7.
That spurious reasoning means that the Subic Bay faults mapped in 2005 by Cabato et
al.4 also do not exist. Likewise, the Maraunot Fault cutting into the Pinatubo caldera
published in 2007 by Lagmay et al., also the many Bicol faults mapped and published by
Lagmay’s Volcano-Tectonic Laboratory at UP-NIGS.
Dr. Arcilla made many statements in a March 8, 200919 interview that cannot go
He said that an impending Natib eruption can be predicted in time to shut the plant
down. That may be true, but it would not be possible to move the spent fuel rods to prevent
He acknowledged that Mt. Natib is potentially active, but said that the risk of an
eruption during the 60 years that the BNPP will operate is very small. The IAEA is much
When Napot Point was chosen to be the BNPP site in the 1970s, the IAEA had no
safety standards for siting nuclear plants in volcanic terrain. It now does20. Quoting from
“Within a geographic region, volcanic activity can persist for longer time scales than
associated with individual volcanoes. For example, many volcanic arcs exhibit recurring
volcanic activity for longer than 10 Ma [million years], although individual volcanoes within the
arc itself may remain active only for around 1 Ma. Because such distributed activity can persist
for many millions of years, volcanic regions that have had activity during the past 10 [million
years] should be considered to have at least the potential for future activity.”
In that context, remember that the 1991 Pinatubo eruption, the world’s worst of the
last century, only 18 years ago. And Cabato et al. showed a pyroclastic flow from Mt. Natib
no older than 18,000 years. Furthermore, there is evidence that Mt. Mariveles erupted as
recently as 4,059 years ago21.
Arcilla offered, as proof of Natib’s harmlessness, that Phivolcs is not monitoring the
volcano. Keep in mind that Pinatubo was also unmonitored until it became restive only three
months before its 1991 eruption.
He defended the design of the BNPP by the safety records of “carbon copies” of the
plant operating in Korea and Taiwan since the 1980s. Both countries have healthy “cultures
of safety” that we clearly lack, and Korea has neither volcanoes nor frequent seismicity. And
refer to a recent Korean news item that details many problems22.
As proof of the BNPP invulnerability to earthquakes, he said that it was not damaged
by the 1990 Luzon earthquake. This is absurd; the plant was not running! Think of the spent
fuel pool, the vulnerable cooling-water intake, and high-tension cables of an operating plant.
He said the BNPP was mothballed as a reaction to the Chernobyl catastrophe in the
Ukraine, but that US-designed nuclear power plants were far safer than their Russian
counterparts. That may be true, but recall the details of shoddy BNPP construction described
by Fortune Magazine9.
The single most stubborn problem facing the nuclear power industry is the safe
disposal of nuclear waste. According to the Journal Nature, the world’s most respected
scientific publication, no country in the world has yet solved this problem23.
Arcilla cites the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in underground salt deposits near
Carlsbad, New Mexico as a model for nuclear-waste disposal. But WIPP accepts only
transuranic waste -- clothing, equipment, tools, sludges, and soils contaminated during
weapons manufacture. It cannot accept the high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power
plants, which emits too much heat and includes too much liquid.
In the meantime, more than 77,000 tons of nuclear waste remain in spent-fuel pools
and open-air casks at more than a hundred power plants in 32 of the United States. Since
1978, the United States has spent more than $90 billion in testing the proposed national waste
depository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada24. But the repository is considered unsafe because
of its volcanic and tectonic histories -- much less recent than Natib’s. In March 2009 the
Obama administration declared that the Yucca mountain project is no longer as option25. No
site has yet been identified to take its place.
And yet, Arcilla boasts, “Give me one island out of our 7,000 and I can find ways to
store nuclear waste safely in the Philippines.”
In the years since Marcos decided to go nuclear, many more earthquakes have
occurred in the vicinity of BNPP (Fig. 5). From 1973 to 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey25
has located many earthquakes of moderate magnitude in the vicinity of the BNPP, one of
them directly under Napot Point, like the one mentioned by Hernandez and Santos in 19775.
FIGURE 5. Earthquakes in the Mt. Natib and BNPP vicinity, 1973-2008. From USGS
National Earthquake Information Center25.
The Lubao Lineament
In 1997, Prof. Fernando Siringan, his students and I began to study land subsidence in
coastal Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan and Kamanava. Very early, we noticed a sharp
lineament in Lubao, Pampanga that trends southwest to Mt. Natib, where it abruptly
disappears (Figure 6). Many of the earthquake epicenters in Figure 5 plot along the
lineament which, if extended farther, trends to Napot Point. The possibility that the
lineament is a fault, and the possibility that it extends under Mt. Natib need urgently to be
explored by scientists of Phivolcs and other institutions. Professor Mahar Lagmay has
established genetic relationships between faults and volcanoes, including Mt. Pinatubo and
the Bicol volcanoes.
FIGURE 6. Landsat image showing the Bataan Peninsula and the Lubao lineament.
Concluding Statement: A Retrospective
Congressman Cojuangco claims that the Philippines owes its status as a poorly
industrialized impoverished country to its lack of electricity, and that the operation of the
BNPP will go a long way toward correcting that status.
I prefer to attribute our industrial and technological backwardness to a national lack
of respect for science and scientific fact, so graphically illustrated by the entire sorry history
of the BNPP and the current efforts to revive it.
Since beginning to study lahars at Mayon Volcano in the 1980s, my data, if judged
“inconvenient” by various governmental entities, have been trivialized, distorted or
disregarded, and the people have suffered.
While conducting our pioneering lahar studies at Mayon, young Phivolcs geologists
and I were continually frustrated as we watched how government engineers ignored or
misused our knowledge as they built flimsy, graft-ridden “lahar containment” dikes. When a
small lahar damaged one, it would be repaired to the same flimsiness. Volume for volume,
laharic debris flows are an order of magnitude more powerful than stormfloods. But our
knowledge never made it to the engineer’s drafting table or to the structure in the field.
That disregard or misuse of science finally bore its ill fruit two decades after we
began studying Mayon lahars. In November 2006, lahars spawned on Mayon by Typhoon
Reming “…overtopped river bends, breaching six dikes through which they created new
paths, buried downstream communities in thick, widespread deposits, and caused most of the
1,266 fatalities,” as described in the international scientific literature in a paper first-authored
by Engielle Paguican, another bright young Filipina scientist.
To this day, no one is accountable for these deaths. Apologists for the failed dikes
say that nothing can withstand a supertyphoon. But proper hazard-containment engineering
builds for the worst case. To do otherwise merely endangers people by giving them false
assurance of their safety.
The engineering sins and graft at Mayon were repeated on a much larger scale at
Pinatubo. In 1995, a new dike was built along the Gugu River between San Fernando and
Bacolor in Pampanga. People in its shadow believed that the dike protected them.
But on 1 November 1995, the worst disaster at Pinatubo happened when lahars of
Typhoon Mameng overwhelmed the Gugu dike. Huge lahars, enlarged by eroding and
absorbing a one-kilometer stretch of the dike, descended upon Cabalantian, a Pampanga
barangay of some ten thousand souls. To this day, no one is held accountable for the many
deaths in Cabalantian.
More recently, Dr. Fernando Siringan of the Marine Science Institute and I continue
to battle the life-threatening Kamanava flood-control project of the Department of Public
Works and Highways. That 5 billion peso project both ignores and trivializes our data,
confirmed by NAMRIA, that show Kamanava unevenly sinking several centimeters every
year. The project also blatantly minimizes the heights of storm waves and surges that would
obliterate the dikes and river walls during a major typhoon.
Truly, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, in a country where the desires of a
dictator with no scientific training, followed decades later by a similarly uninformed
legislator, outweigh technical and scientific fact and endanger the populace.
A postscript: Dr. Joan Cabato, the first author of our paper on Subic Bay faulting, is
now a PhD, an expert on the geochemistry of lithium in Germany. That element, in this age
of energy crisis and innovation, carries enormous weight by virtue of its use in ultramodern
electricity storage. The abuse of her research can only discourage her from returning.
The pro-BNPP propagandists make extravagant claims that are mostly undocumented. I have
taken pains to provide references from reputable sources, and wherever possible have provided
satellite links for easy access. This is a “living document” that will be updated whenever necessary.
Corrections and additions will be appreciated
1Science and Global Security, volume 11, pages 1–51.
3Chen, Chang-Hwa and J.J.-S. Shen, 2004, Discussions on “The IAEA Guidelines for Assessing Volcanic
Hazards at Nuclear Facilities”. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research v. 134, p. 339– 342.
4Cabato, M. E. J. A., K. S. Rodolfo, and F. P. Siringan, 2005, History of sedimentary infilling and faulting in
Subic Bay, Philippines revealed in high-resolution seismic reflection profiles: Jour. Asian Earth Science 25
5Report on the evaluation of the geological and seismological studies made on the Philippine Nuclear Power
Plant – I Site. 8 pp.
6Field inspection of the trenches constructed by NPC to answer PAEC Question No. 2 entitled ‘Confirming the
absence of shore faults south of Napot Point, Morong, Bataan’.
7Salaverria, L., 8 February 2009, “Nuke plant unsafe, says study”. Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Accessed 8 February 2009.
8Salaverria, L., 5 March 2009, “BNPP study missing, solon says”. Philippine Daily Inquirer.
9Dumaine, B. with associate B.D. Fromson, 1 September 1986, “The $2.2 billion nuclear fiasco”Fortune
Magazine, vol. 114, p. 38ff.
10Ruaya, J. R. and C. C. Panem, 1991, Mt. Natib, Philippines: a geochemical model of a caldera-hosted
geothermal system: Jour. Volcanol. & Geothermal Res. 45 255-365.
11Torres, R., “The vulnerability of PNPP site to the hazards of Natib volcano”PHIVOLCS Observer 8:3:1-4.
12Geology and geohazards evaluation of the Subic Bay area: Implications on future development and
environmental management plan. Internal report submitted to Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, 38 pp.
13Lagmay, A. M. F., E. Rodolfo, L. Soria, E. Paguican, G. Tiu et al., Geology of southwest Natib Volcano.
29th Annual PAASE Meeting and Symposium (29APAMS), Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola
Heights, Quezon City, July 13-15, 2009.
14Cyranoski, D., 26 July 2007, “Quake shuts world's largest nuclear plant”. Nature 448, 392-393.
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v448/n7152/full/448392a.html. Accessed 30 July 2007.
15IAEA Staff Report, 29 January 2009, “ Third Report on Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant”.
http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/News/2009/kashiwazaki290109.html. Accessed May 5, 2009.
16Takekuro, Ichiro, 26 February 2008, Quest for Safety: Enhancing Seismic Safety and Emergency
Preparedness in light of the Niigataken Chuetsu-oki Earthquake. International Symposium on Seismic
Safety of Nuclear Power Plants and Lessons Learned from the Niigataken Chuetsu-oki Earthquake.
http://www.jaif.or.jp/pdf/2008_03_Takekuro_en.pdf. Accessed January 30, 2009
17Mothballed Philippine Nuclear Power Plant – Some Postmortem Perspectives".
Accessed 12 February 2009.
18Orejas, Tonette, January 22, 2009, “Nuke plant ‘ready to run’, says solon”. Philippine Inquirer.
First Posted 19:28:00 01/22/2009. Accessed February 23, 2009.
19Papa, Alcuin, March 8, 2009, “No active fault at BNPP – geologist”. Philippine Inquirer.
geologist. Accessed March 8, 2009.
20IAEA, 31 March 2009, Volcanic Hazards in Site Evaluation for Nuclear Installations.
21Valentik, A.C.M, et al., 2009, Aspects of volcanic hazards assessments for the Bataan nuclear power plant,
Luzon Peninsula, Philippines. In C.B. Connor et al., eds., Volcanic and Tectonic Hazard Assessment for
Nuclear Facilities. Cambridge University Press, p. 257-286.
DS405 Draft Safety Guide.
22Kim, H-c, 29 January 2009, “Frequent Problems Cloud Nuclear Power Plan: 3 Incidents in 2 Months; Civic
Group Cites Secrecy-First Policy as Point of Concern”. Korea Times.
Accessed 30 March 2009.
23Brumfiel, G., 20 April 2006, Forward planning. Nature v. 1440 p. 987-989.
24Tetreault, S., 16 July 2008, “Yucca Mountain cost estimate tops $90 billion”. Las Vegas Review-Journal.
http://www.lvrj.com/news/25498919.html. Accessed 10 May 2009.
25Hebert, H. Josef. 2009. “Nuclear waste won't be going to Nevada's Yucca Mountain, Obama official says.”
Chicago Tribune. March 6, 2009. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-nukeyucca_
frimar06,0,2557502.story Accessed 6 April 2009.
26National Earthquake Information Center, United States Geological Survey.
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