Philippines and Ukraine's Shared History: Chernobyl and Radioactive Milk

The year was 1986.
A file photograph taken on Dec. 8, 2020 shows a graffiti on a building wall on the central square of the ghost town of Pripyat, not far from Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Photo/s: Genya Savilov, Agence France-Presse

The world's worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine 36 years ago had far-reaching impacts on the Philippines, located literally on the other side of the planet.

It was April 1986, and the Philippines just ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his successor, Corazon Aquino was in a quandry on what to do with a newly-built nuclear power plant in Bataan province.

Marcos and his associates were accused of pocketing kickbacks from the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, according to The Washington Post archives. At that time, the BNPP was valued at $2.1 billion (P107.5 billion), roughly double the estimated construction cost, according to The Washington Post.

The Chernobyl meltdown "sealed the fate" of the BNPP, according to Aquino's budget secretary, Alberto Romulo.

The 620-megawatt BNPP was the first nuclear power plant in Southeast Asia. Built by U.S. firm Westinghouse Electric Corp., the Marcos government hailed it as one of the centerpieces of his leadership, one that would make energy more affordable for millions.

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"More than the money, it is the safety of the Filipino people that is our primary concern," Aquino told reporters.

The BNPP remains unused to this day and efforts to revive it under outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte have so so far failed to put it into service.

The radiation from Chernobyl was so unprecedented, the area will be inhabitable for humans for 24,000 years. It also irradiated food stocks in parts of Europe.

According to a September 1986 report by American news agency UPI, Filipino authorities recalled two milk brands, one evaporated and one powdered, for exceeding allowable levels of radiation.

The two milk brands were imported from the Netherlands at that time.

"Our decision was to give an order that these two products should no longer be sold," then Health Sec. Aldredo Bengzon said. "In fact those already in the market should be withdrawn and destroyed."

The importer of the Birch Tree and Dutch Lady, Daily Harvest, said the recall covered 4,500 cases each containing 48 410-gram cans of milk.

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