HAVANA TIMES, Aug 1 (IPS) — Environmental groups hope that a mothballed nuclear power plant on Bataan peninsula of the Philippines will become a major tourist attraction and earn green dollars for the country.
An exploratory eco-tour for journalists, nature lovers and adventure sports enthusiasts has already been launched to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), 100 km west of the national capital, with support from Greenpeace and local non-government organizations (NGOs).
The plant, which was completed but never fuelled, is considered the Philippines’s biggest white elephant.
“Greenpeace supports the decision to finally turn the BNPP into something more practical: a monument to remind people of the inherent dangers of nuclear power,” said Francis de la Cruz, campaigner for Greenpeace in Southeast Asia.
“There really is no point in trying to revive it as a power plant, which will only cost the Filipino people more – not just in terms of rehabilitation and operation, but also in terms of health, environment impacts, disaster preparedness, and sustainable development,” de la Cruz said.
Greenpeace initiated the tour after the Department of Tourism (DOT) announced intention to transform the plant into a tourist attraction.
DOT director Ronald Tiotuico announced that the plant would be included in a tour package as a “reminder of how nuclear energy throughout the world menacingly threatens the quality of life of the people if handled incorrectly.”
The tour package will also include historical sites and beach resorts in the Bataan area.
Part of the tour took visitors close to a massive reactor where uranium was supposed to be installed.
Ding Fuellos, a social development management practitioner who joined the tour, said everyone was excited to enter the facility since it was normally off-limits to visitors.
“It was the first time I saw a uranium capsule and a nuclear reactor. Now that is something that I can tell to my kids, and grandchildren. It is one for the books,” said Fuellos.
But apart from curiosity the tour is an opportunity to display a feat of engineering and scientific prowess. Fuellos added that the tours could be an alternative tourist destination with social significance.
“Following the Fukushima tragedy, I think it would be a good tourist attraction for all Filipinos, especially high school and engineering students, local government personnel and officials, and advocacy groups concerned with policy and development management,” Fuellos told IPS.
According to de la Cruz there are only a few guides around the plant, so special arrangements need to be made. Day tours catering to large groups are facilitated by the National Power Corporation and include a 20-minute presentation on nuclear power and a 45-minute guided tour.
“We are meeting with tour organizers who have expressed an interest in following through with the eco- tours in Bataan including the BNPP,” de la Cruz told IPS. “We are hopeful that groups that have the expertise and the experience, can take this on.”
The 2.3 billion dollar nuclear power plant, completed in 1984, never went into operation due to its proximity to subterranean fault lines and insufficient safety analyses. According to Greenpeace, to this day Filipino taxpayers continue to pay almost a million dollars annually for its upkeep.
Several points of tourist interest in the region are being developed. The area is close to a marine turtle conservation centre, and a week-long turtle festival is usually held there in November by conservationists.
The area also has several beaches, a World War II memorial, farms and nature trails.
The BNPP will not be the first mothballed nuclear plant to be turned into a tourist attraction. A nuclear power plant in Kalkar, Germany, was turned into a theme park in 1995. The plant, which was never operated after completion in 1986, receives some 600,000 tourists a year.