Corporate Watch


Russian forces captured the USSR-built Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, after a fierce battle on the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian troops took over the power plant while Ukrainian forces battled them on three sides after Moscow mounted an assault by land, sea, and air in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two (Reuters, Feb. 24, 2022). Why was Chernobyl targeted and captured?

“Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said shortly before the power plant was captured. “This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”

Zelenskyy knew this was Russia’s undisguised threat hurled at Europe and the NATO countries sympathetic to Ukraine not to interfere militarily. “If as a result of the occupiers’ artillery strikes the nuclear waste storage facility is destroyed, the radioactive dust may cover the territories of Ukraine, Belarus, and the EU countries,” he said. The Chernobyl disaster in the then-Soviet Ukraine sent clouds of nuclear material across much of Europe in 1986 after a botched safety test in the fourth reactor of the atomic plant (Ibid.). The plant, which lies 130 kilometers north of the capital, Kyiv, has been decommissioned, and the reactor that exploded has been covered by a $2-billion protective “sarcophagus” (funded by 40 friendly nations) to prevent radiation from leaking further. Nuclear clean-up was scheduled for completion in 2065. What a horror if the plant were now bombed!

Viktor Sushko, deputy director general of the National Research Center for Radiation Medicine (NRCRM) based in Kyiv describes the 1986 Chernobyl disaster as the “largest anthropogenic disaster in the history of humankind” ( July 26, 2019). The NRCRM estimate around five million citizens of the former USSR, including three million in Ukraine, have suffered as a result of Chernobyl, while in Belarus around 800,000 people were registered as being affected by radiation following the disaster.

How totally sinister for Russia to threaten its “brother” Ukraine and most of the world with exploding the iconic Chernobyl sarcophagus — 328 feet high, 541 feet long, and 30,000 tons in weight — that separates the destroyed reactor from the environment for at least the next 100 years! It would be genocide more massive than infamous German dictator Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust of the European Jews during World War II.

What brazen evil in threatening such genocide with a flint held to a failed nuclear power plant!

But wait — didn’t the Russian Ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Khovaev, once so solicitously say at a CNN Philippines interview about the planned re-commissioning of the “mothballed” Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP): “The safety standards, [the] international standards are much, much higher than the standards on which the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was built. So I think it’s not possible at all,” he said, referring to the planned plant opening (CNN Philippines, April 4, 2018). The Russian friend would not recommend gambling with a dangerous failed nuclear power plant, knowing what harm it can do to life, health, and the environment.

Since the start of his term in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has purposely developed a close friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin (and Chinese President Xi Jinping), openly expressing preference for military arms and training (and other aid) from the communist countries rather than from the “West” (the US and its allies). In October 2017 Russia donated military equipment to the Philippines — particularly 5,000 AK-74M Kalashnikov assault rifles with 1 million rounds of ammunition. And so it was Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corp. (Rosatom) that conducted an assessment of the BNPP facility to determine if it was fit for commissioning. Rosatom also announced it would look into the possibility of land-based and floating nuclear power plants in the country, knowing that the BNPP could not be activated because it is built on the earthquake fault line connected to the active volcano Mt. Natib in nearby Morong, to Mt. Pinatubo, and to Mariveles volcano, all in the Bataan Volcanic Arc, all in an extremely dangerous earthquake zone which could trigger an explosion of the BNPP.

Why then, three months before he steps down from office, did President Duterte sign Executive Order (EO) No. 164, dated Feb. 28, 2022, allowing the country to tap nuclear power as an alternative energy source, and directing the Nuclear Energy Program Inter-Agency Committee (NEP-IAC) to study reopening the mothballed BNPP?

A 2017 Stanford University study describes the technical lapses that prevented activation and viable operational sustainability (specially the siting error) as well as the graft and corruption in government that bloated the financial requirements of the BNPP.

“One of the biggest controversies was the Marcos connection with Westinghouse. First, Marcos requested that National Power Co. (the government-owned electric utility) negotiate a deal to buy two nuclear reactors. Westinghouse used connections to Marcos to strike the deal. Already known to be more expensive than other options, the Westinghouse contract jumped from $650 million for only one reactor to $2.2 billion. Later, evidence of large sums of money going to President Marcos himself was found. Westinghouse denied corruption accusations.

“Another controversy was how Westinghouse was able to gain the contract over General Electric. It is documented that National Power was negotiating with General Electric before Westinghouse came into the picture. However, once the connections between Westinghouse and the Marcos regime were established by Herminio Disini, a friend of the president himself, General Electric appeared to be strung along, as though they were still in contention even though they actually were not. There is documentation that contract negotiations began before General Electric could pitch its proposal to the government” (from B. Dumaine, “The $2.2 Billion Nuclear Fiasco,” Fortune, Sept. 1, 1986).

The Sandiganbayan First Division ordered businessman Herminio Disini, crony of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to surrender $50.6 million in commissions that he received for helping two foreign firms obtain the contract to build the mothballed BNPP in 1974 (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 13, 2012). The Supreme Court ordered Disini to pay P1.01 billion in damages to the government over the BNPP project that was tainted with corruption (GMA News, June 15, 2021).

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed a motion for partial reconsideration with the Sandiganbayan for the antigraft court to also order Marcos to return the ill-gotten commissions that he, in conspiracy with Disini, had allegedly obtained through the anomalous contract. The OSG said the government was entitled to actual or compensatory damages as well as to the return of the P22.2 billion that the government spent in total to build the plant. But though it found Marcos to have had a “personal financial interest” in the transaction, the Sandiganbayan said the government failed to present evidence to show that the dictator or his wife, Imelda, received any part of the commissions from the BNPP deal (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 11, 2012).

Fast-forward to today: Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.’s only son and namesake, is running for President at the coming May 9 national elections, in tandem with Sara Duterte, President Duterte’s daughter, who is running for Vice-President. Marcos Jr. praised President Duterte’s EO 164 and precisely called for the rehabilitation of the BNPP, which he said should have solved the country’s energy deficit problem during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. ( March 9, 2022).

“The Duterte administration is about to leave a tarred legacy and is setting us up for another horror story like Chernobyl and Fukushima,” Greenpeace campaigner Khevin Yu said, referring to the world’s worst nuclear disasters (Reuters, March 2, 2022).

What have the Filipino people done to be threatened, like the hapless Ukrainians and neighbors, with grave danger to life, health and the environment?


Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.