New Internationalist

The Marcos Syndrome

January 1980

It was 1978 when the North American press first revealed some of the less savoury details of the deal struck between Westinghouse and the government of the Philippines for the sale of a $1.1 billion nuclear reactor. Concerned about the flagging fortunes of the nuclear industry in general and Westinghouse in particular, the U.S. Export-Import bank stumped up loans and loan guarantees of $644 million in support of the sale. To oil the wheels still further, Westinghouse paid a ‘lubricating fee’ of between $5 million and $35 million to their Philippines agent, a certain Ferdinand Disini, who turned out to be a close friend and relative of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

Since then anti-nuclear lobbyists in Washington have been fighting a rearguard action against the sale by trying to persuade President Carter to veto Westinghouse’s application for a US export license, without which the reactor cannot actually be shipped to Manila.

This month new ammunition comes into the hands of the campaigners in the form of a new study by the respected Pacific Studies Center based in Los Angeles. Among the allegations: * The two-loop 620 MW reactor being sold to the Philippines is riddled with more than 200 design faults, does not satisfy US domestic safety standards, and poses ‘grave safety and environmental hazards’, according to an independent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

  • The site of the proposed reactor - at Bataan, fifty miles south of Manila itself - is located in a known earthquake zone and is close to five volcanoes which are classified as ‘passive’ but which share the same lava bed as a volcano which recently erupted a hundred miles south of the site.

  • US Export-Import Bank President said as late as 1978 that ‘the reactor is not situated on a known geological fault’, but aerial photography by the US Defense Department has since revealed geological faulting on the site itself.

  • The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has warned that ‘all volcanic risks should be considered possible on the Philippines site’ and disclaimed responsibility for environmental risks. The US Export-Import Bank also refuses to take responsibility, claiming that it is ‘not in a position to impose safety regulations on a sovereign nation’.

  • Should the reactor’s cooling system and its emergency back-up be knocked out simultaneously then meltdown would ensue.

  • In theory, the Westinghouse plant could be safely shut down in the event of a moderate earthquake shock. The question is whether the reactor - and its safety systems - would stand up to a severe one.

This column was published in the January 1980 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 083

New Internationalist Magazine issue 083
Issue 083

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