“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
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20 June 2011

Exploring the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

Exploring the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

Yes, it is not your usual travel story.  But one thing is for sure--The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is now in operation--at least, in the meantime--as a tourist attraction.

More than a week ago, I was tagged in Facebook for an eco-tour organized by the Greenpeace Philippines and Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.  Right away, I responded to the call to fill up the remaining 16 seats.  Why not? The trip was cheap that covers the guided tour, entrance fees, bus fare, lunch, though sans the refreshments in between.  But nonetheless, it was worth the P500 trip.  Apparently, the eco-tour was subsidized by the two institutions.

More importantly, the mere mention of BNPP was enticing enough!  I was still in high school when we were barraged with issues surrounding this mothballed project.  Up to now, the issue whether or not to operate it is still lurking upon us, the Filipino people.  This issue becomes even more contentious with Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant's failure to withstand the wrath of nature, which happened 3 months ago. Thus, being inside a nuclear power plant, which is a rare experience, makes it more interesting!

The BNPP is shrouded with political, economic, environmental, sociological, cultural, and regional and international issues, but, first and foremost, this is a travel blog, so discussions of these concerns is reserved for another venue. Thus, I would like to tackle it first the way a curious, hungry and  un-involved mind would be--to know better how on earth does a nuclear power plant look like from the outside, what is inside of this white mammoth project, and what kind of animal is a nuclear reactor? Yes, something like seeing for myself what I read in textbooks and what I see in Discovery Channel.

The plant tour started with a short lecture by National Power Corporation (NPC) officials--who manages the BNPP, how it operates, why is it different from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, what safety measures have been undertaken after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, how a uranium looks like, why it is safer (according to NPC) to operate the BNPP compared to fossil-based extraction or hydro-electric power plant, etc.  It was purely educational and expository in nature.  Thank God, no heated arguments have taken place between the participants and the NPC officials, as everyone seems to be more excited to get inside the plant! 

After the lecture, we were led to the grounds for photo-ops.  Now I understand why it is best to take your souvenir photo before going inside the mammoth plant--you will also know later, of course. Before the plant tour, however, we were reminded not to take photos inside. After friendly negotiations, however, we were "allowed" to take photos but we were discouraged not to use it to put the NPC and BNPP, and the whole nuclear power concept in a bad light.  So now, I am doing them a favor.  I am making them more popular with this post.  Who knows?  They might eventually become a tourist attraction as what has been suggested by the Department of Tourism.

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

So, on we proceeded to the fenced and supposedly heavily guarded compound.  Back in the day, there were already metal weapon scanners/ detectors installed, but these are now considered ancient, thus not operational. Perhaps, NPC should upgrade those metal detectors and not allow bags inside or at least inspect bags inside the plant for security reasons.  After all, this piece of property still needs to be closely guarded. 

The feeling of getting inside the fence was exhilarating for a first-timer like me. After all, it was off limits to ordinary people for more than two decades. I would have wanted to kiss the ground, but that was an overkill.  Anyway, as we drew near the entrance, (which is more like a backdoor to me) the other visitors got even more excited (like me!).  Aside from the ooohs and ahhhs and chuckles along the way, everyone was behaved.

Once inside, I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie set with all those pipes and meters and gauges!

First Stop:  Pumping Section.  Our first stop was the water pumping section where the plant pumps water in and out of the plant.  Water is pumped into the nuclear reactor to produce steam, which then produces heat energy and converted into electricity. More than a hundred thousand liters of sea water need to be pumped into the reactor.

Exploring the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

Second Stop: Electrical Section.  We were led to a narrow corridor, leading to a flight of metal staircase, that brought us to the this section where they control the electrical supply for the entire plant.  Again, this looks like sci-fi movie set with all those metal control boxes.  It is like inside a big room with a row of huge circuit breaker panels.

Third Stop: We were led to a  maze of corridors that lead to a hollow section just outside the cooling tower.  Now this leads me to think in case of emergency.  One who is working inside the plant should know the passageways and exits by heart because one can easily get lost inside! According to the Engineer guide, the wall encasing the reactor is 1 meter thick of high grade concrete and reinforcement bars, has a few inches gap between the main structure, and is padded with foam as protection from earthquake.  No plane the size of Boeing 747 can also break through the wall and it can withstand an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0 on the Richter scale.  The location of the plant is also safe from tsunami as it is already high at 18 [or is it 30 as I read somewhere?] meters above sea level, which is definitely much higher than the Fukushima plant.

Exploring the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Outside the nuclear reactor chamber

Fourth Stop:  Inside the Nuclear reactor chamber.  We entered this decontamination chamber with two sealed vacuum doors, which according to the guide, is opened one at a time to prevent contamination of the entire plant.  Then we went up several meters high through a steel staircase until we reached the viewing level for the reactor and the cooling chambers.  According to the guide, the BNPP has two separate cooling chambers compared to Fukushima plant, which has only one.  If one cooling chamber fails, then they can easily redirect the hot water to the other one.  This was one of the redesign measures they installed after the Chernobyl meltdown.

On this note, we noticed that while going near the reactor chamber, the temperature goes up.  As expected, we were all dripping with sweat due to humidity as there is no longer fresh air coming inside.  Hence, it was more convenient to have the picture perfect souvenir photos taken before the plant tour, unless you'd like to see yourself in pictures--yucky and in a total mess! When operating though, the temperature inside chamber is controlled.

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Nuclear Reactor

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Steam Tank

Fifth Stop: Control Room.  This is the brain of the entire plant.  It is equipped with a control panel of gauges, monitors, knobs, keys and buttons that only trained people can manipulate.  For this entire section, only three (3) technical people are authorized during the operation.  If other personnel (even officials) and visitors would want to look into or inspect the control room, they are not also authorized to go beyond the viewing room which has a one-way bullet-proof mirror.  Again, this is one of the security measures they installed after the Chernobyl accident.  Apparently, even unauthorized personnel were allowed inside the control room of the Chernobyl plant, which caused further confusion and added problems during the meltdown.

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Control Panels in the Control Room

Sixth and last stop: Power Generator section.  This is where all the steam and heat energy is converted into electricity which is stored and is connected to cables for distribution.  Going up here, though requires one to go climb several flights of narrow steel staircase.  This is a big space enough to play basketball or badminton, or perhaps, an exhibit area if the plant is converted into a museum and art space.

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Power Generation and Storage

Getting inside the plant is one beautiful educational experience especially among students who would want to learn more about nuclear energy.  The National Power Corporation has opened this nuclear energy facility for public awareness and social marketing, which it did not have during the construction phase.  With billions of dollars in budget, I wonder why there was no PR done or community relations done on this project. Although it is not too late, NPC hopes to educate and inform the people what the BNPP looks like, how it operates and how it will benefit the country in its bid for industrialization.

On my part, I could say I am better informed and perhaps more ready for an informed discussion about the pros and cons of the BNPP.  The question whether I am for or against its operation, will not be answered here.  Let us enjoy the photos in the meantime.

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

For the rest of the photos, click this link.

For eco-tour inquiries, you may contact:

National Power Corporation
BIR Road corner Quezon Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Tel. Nos.: (632) 921-3541 / Fax No.: (632) 921-2468

Mr. Francis Joseph dela Cruz
Greenpeace South East Asia
Room 301 JGS Building, #30 Scout Tuason Street,
1103 Quezon City, Philippines
Tel: +63-2-3321807/ Fax:+63-2-332-1806
email: info.ph@greenpeace.org
Website: Greenpeace Philippines

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17 June 2011

Photographing historical Barasoain church

Photographing Barasoain Church

In time for the 113th Philippine Independance Day this year, I am featuring the iconic and historical Barasoain Church as my photographic and travel subject.  (It would be lovely to discuss the historical aspect, but I decided to delete it.  Please just Google it.)

I have been to Malolos, Bulacan a number of times and I promised myself, I should not miss Barasoain Church, which, historically, was the seat of the first Philippine Constitution. Its being historical, plus the adjacent museum and church courtyard are, likewise, quite interesting for a hobbyist photographer like me.  In particular, I have affinity to old and quaint architecture, which makes this place closer to my heart.

Photographing Barasoain ChurchThe first time we went there, I had no time to photograph the interior of the church.  There was an ongoing mass, and, being a Catholic, and as a matter of respect, I think it was inappropriate for me to take photos of the interiors.  So I just knelt down and prayed, instead.

The next time around, the church was closed.  I think they have specific time to open (something like 3:00 PM or so).  I did not want to lose any chance anymore.  So, while my wards were watching the "Lights and Sound Show" about the Philippine Independence (which I have already watched) I asked around if it was okay to go inside, which led me to one lady directing me to the sacristy.  It was also locked. I knocked on the door (which I later learned, led to the altar) and a sleepy man, obviously roused from a siesta, opened the door for me.

Upon entering, I was quite disappointed because it was dark inside.  Thanks to my cheap but trusty tripod! I just have to take long exposures or make overexposure instead, I thought.  It worked for some, but not for many shots.  Thanks to Lightroom 3.0 which allowed me to tweak on some photos and voila!  I got some relative good photos to share (which were "gathering dust" in my hard disk!).

Photographing inside a dark church at past 1:00 PM was quite challenging. What with the humid, dark, dusty, musty, and seemingly haunted choir loft!?  I was praying to the saints and even to the ghosts not to show up on me, because I was just interested to taking pictures of the church.  Thank heavens, I never captured any apparition!

Another challenge that I encountered is shooting the church facade.  I do not know the reason, but we always get to the place when there are no more blue skies!  Blue skies would have been postcard perfect backdrop for this interesting and historical piece of architecture.  I thought that, perhaps, I should be there in the morning, instead, which of course did not happen.  I just hope that I would be able to go to Malolos one of these days--in the morning.

Also, posing a challenge to photographing the church facade are the lamp posts that get in the way of the viewpoint.  Again, I have to find a perfect spot where I can omit from the viewpoint those distracting lamps right infront of the church.  The last time I went there, there was a renovation of the church grounds, and I hope they get to place those lamp posts in more inconspicuous locations.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that I got the chance to capture one of the most important facets of our history as a Filipino people.

Have I captured every nook an cranny of the church?

Not so, but the the spirit of Philippine Independence, I did!

Photographing Barasoain Church
From the tablet markers on the church, here are some interesting historical facts:

  • First old church was constructed by Rev. Francisco Royo, OSA, but was destroyed by fire in 1884
  • Rebuilt by Rev. Juan Giron, OSA, in 1885
  • Seat of the Revolutionary Congress that was convened in from September 1898 to February 1890 under the presidency of Pedro A. Paterno
  • The Malolos Constitution, chiefly drafted by Felipe G. Calderon, was enacted by the Congress
The Original copy of the Malolos Constitution, which looks like a small pamphlet, is in the historical archives of the current House of Representatives in Batasan Complex in Quezon City.  Unfortunately, this is not available for viewing.  A photocopy, however, is available in the Barasoain Museum.  I could not take a photo of the said replica, since photographing inside the museum was and is prohibited.

If you have slow internet connection, please see the rest of the photos of Barasoain Church.

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14 June 2011

Living in style at Balay ni Tana Dicang

Living in style at Balay ni Tana Dicang copy

One interesting fact about Negros Occidental is the lifestyle of the rich and famous of sugarlandia.  Perhaps, an obvious Filipino trait, we always want to pry on the lives of people, and this time, the rich Negros clans--how they lived, how they were highly regarded in their communities, and how they influenced or were influenced by men and women in power.

Indeed, going around the ancestral house makes one nostalgic about how rich, powerful, and influential the clan was.  A glimpse of "Balay ni Tana Dicang" or the ancestral home of the Lizares and Alunan clan, exactly allows one to travel back in time--reflecting the lifestyle of the Lizares family, and the story of Negros back in the 19th century.

07 June 2011

Oh My Gulay! : The finer art of dining

Oh My Gulay!

My companions wanted something different from the usual fares.  The fact that we were in Baguio, we should shy away from the fast food restos in the mall, which, are a dime a dozen in Manila.  Since my Baguio friends were raving about it, and the sorry fact that I, who consider Baguio my second home, has not gone to this much talked about restaurant.  I suggested Oh My Gulay! (OMG). It was a quick decision, so off we went downtown and proceeded to La Azotea building along Session Road.  We preferred a quick lunch since they were scheduled to leave Baguio in mid-afternoon and I was also about to meet my college buddies for our first reunion after more than two decades.

From the stories about OMG, I learned that it is a haven for Baguio artists.  So, more or less, I had an inkling of  how it looks like--art pieces here and there, bulul sculptures, paintings, etc.  But then, I was wrong. My expectation pales in comparison with what I was seeing. The last flight of stairs leading to the top-most floor of the building where OMG is located has already amazed my artistic senses.  How I regretted leaving my my dSLR in the lodging house!  So, I just had to make do with a point and shoot compact camera that is not even my brand!

02 June 2011

Scaling Mt. Kanlaon's seven falls

Scaling Mt. Kanlaon's Seven falls

We wanted something unusual during our family trip to Bacolod City in Negros.  So among our many itineraries, we decided to have a one-night stay in Mambukal Resort located at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon in Brgy. Minoyan, Murcia, Negros Occidental, which is just a good 40-minute minibus ride from Libertad in Bacolod City.

Mambukal resort offers many facilities and activities to travelers like us (which I will blog about more, later).  One of these is the trek to the "seven falls" which I learned later, was actually "nine falls." The last two towards the peak, I presume, are reserved for seasoned backpackers and mountaineers.