by Alan Robles
originally published in South China Morning Post Sep 23 2004
Each day, the Philippines ritually burns about US$155,000 in cash - at least it might as well. The money goes to pay for what must be the world's most useless monument to corruption - a defective, non-functioning US$2.1 billion nuclear power plant.
Completed in 1985, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was a centrepiece project of the Marcos dictatorship and would have been Southeast Asia's first such installation. Located 175km from Manila, the six-storey, five-hectare complex was supposed to generate 620 megawatts of electricity. Instead, it generated only megabucks in kickbacks for Marcos and a crony named Herminio Disini.
Finished two years late and at twice the original quoted cost, the pressurised water reactor was riddled with defects. Based on a 1973 design rejected by several countries, it was built on the slopes of two dormant volcanoes and in an earthquake zone vulnerable to tidal waves. After Marcos was chased out in 1986, the Aquino government kept the plant shut down, but it - and succeeding governments - continued paying off the loans. The repayment, which started in 1975 and will end only in 2018, currently runs to about US$110 per minute - five per cent of our total debt. The plant has yet to spit out a single watt of electricity.
Its builder, Westinghouse, has strenuously denied investigators' findings that it paid up to US$80 million in bribes to Marcos and Disini. When the dictator fell, Disini fled to the welcoming arms of Austria, using his money (reportedly US$35 million) to set himself up in a castle.
No government has so far mustered the fortitude to denounce the project as a tainted deal conducted by a crooked dictator. Instead, the attention has been on what can be done with the colossal white elephant. Ideas have ranged from converting it to a conventional power station, to selling it off. Unfortunately, not only is the plant's technology obsolete, but converting it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Here is my modest proposal. Why not turn the complex into a militaristic sci-fi theme park? Rig it up with safety devices, special effects and old plane wrecks and then use it to stage paintball shooting tournaments. Hordes of gamers would pay to play out their fantasies in the world's only nuclear plant used as a simulated battlefield.
The plant could also be rented out as an authentic location for movie companies shooting the latest disaster or secret agent epic. The buildings could be used for seminars and exhibitions, there could even be casinos and an exotic resort ("stay overnight in our nuclear hotel"). It would turn the country into a unique tourist destination.
And what would the park be called? What else, but "Disini Land"?