ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
In the history of man, the fear of the unknown has always hampered progress. Fortunately, there were people who were willing to take the risks and challenge convention, and pave the way for a better life for their fellow men.
For example, from the first time man saw a bird flying, he also wanted to soar to the sky. And why not? If man could fly, he would be able to reach more lands in shorter time. First, there were the mythical Daedaelus and his son Icarus who literally copied the birds and made themselves giant wings to escape from a labyrinth in Crete. The myth goes on to say that Icarus disobeyed his father and flew too high. The wax that kept the feathers together melted and he fell to the sea and drowned.
The tragedy that befell Icarus did not stop man from the quest to fly, and many tried different ways to soar to the sky. Finally, on December 17. 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright broke the barrier and successfully launched into the sky the Wright Flyer and became the first to fly a controlled and sustained aircraft.
There was also a time when people thought the earth was flat, and that if you traveled to the end of the ocean, you would fall into the unknown. For centuries, people feared traveling westward, until Ferdinand Magellan decided in 1519 to challenge the unknown and sailed westward from Spain in search of new routes and new lands.
I am pointing these out because despite the advent of modern technology, there remains that fear of the unknown in the Philippines that continues to hamper progress. While several countries have been using nuclear plants to provide their power needs for decades, the Philippines has hesitated to embrace nuclear energy, which, without any doubt, will be the only reliable source of energy in the near future.
The United States is the biggest producer of nuclear energy with 104 operable nuclear plants, another one under construction, and 30 more planned or proposed. The other top users of nuclear power are France, Japan, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom, Canada, India, Germany, Ukraine, China, and Taiwan.
A cursory glance of this list would reveal that these countries are among the richest and most industrialized in the world. The emerging economies have also joined the bandwagon – Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and United Arab Emirates.
This list alone should tell us that nuclear energy is the way to go in the future, and that the Philippines should no longer hesitate to come to grips with this reality.
For all his faults, the late President Ferdinand Marcos saw the need for new sources of energy other than those generated by plants fueled by oil, whose prices continued soaring and whose availability in the future were suspect. He built dams and built hydroelectric power plants. He utilized geothermal power and built geothermal power plants. Finally, he built the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), which, unfortunately, was haunted by corruption and was closed even before it could generate a single watt of electricity.
Almost every year, the Philippines is hit by crippling power shortages. Not a single administration saw the need to confront the recurring problem.
While there are laudable efforts to find alternative sources of energy, such as putting up windmills to harness the power of the wind, putting up solar panels to harness the energy from the sun, and putting up ethanol plants to produce fuel from sugar, corn and other agricultural products, we all know that these alternative sources of energy cannot even come close to the amount of power produced by turbines using oil or coal.
And yet, we know that in time, the world has to turn to other sources of energy because oil and coal are so expensive, their supply is seriously depleting, and they have caused so much harm to the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in alarming weather phenomena such as global warming, El Nino and El Nina and drought.
Nuclear energy is the only viable alternative to oil-fueled and coal-fueled power. Nuclear plants can produce significant quantities of electricity, and are generally comparable in output to coal plants. More importantly, the cost of electricity will be greatly reduced and the supply uninterrupted.
There are admittedly some disadvantages to nuclear power. For example, there is still the problem of how to dispose of radioactive waste. There is also the problem with costs. Building a plant is very expensive but the cost of running the plant is comparatively low. There is also the danger of terrorist attack, but terror threats should not stop nations from moving forward.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday revived the debate over nuclear plants when he said that despite its risks, the government should consider building nuclear power plants to solve the creeping power shortage in the country.
Maybe we should start listening to him.