Just a few hundred meters west of Commonwealth Avenue, along Central Avenue, is the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI). Established in 1958 in the term of President Carlos Polestico Garcia (1896-1971), the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), sought to develop nuclear energy research in the country, and join in the fledging international nuclear power race of the 1950s. The first nuclear power plants had just recently opened in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1954) and United Kingdom (1956), and the Philippines needed to be part of that global thrust for cheaper energy sources.
In 1963, Philippine Nuclear Research Institute Complex was completed, with the PRR-1 TRIGA reactor (Philippine Research Reactor) as its crowning glory. Experiments were conducted that would lead to the start of the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in 1976, which was designed by the 2014 National Artist for Architecture, José María V. Zaragoza. However, with the ongoing fears of reactor meltdowns and accusations of corruption, the BNPP was never completed and the PNRI’s reactor was finally shut down in 1988, after a reactor pool leak. The PRR-1 was finally decommissioned in 2005.
The PNRI complex was designed by Arch. Cresenciano De Castro, and it is still in operations, as it now serves a government research center on peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
Arch. Cresenciano Cruz De Castro (1927-1992)is a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and the Cornell University, in America. De Castro was the consulting architect of several major institutions and corporations; among them the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission, the Mindanao State University, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. De Castro was a president of the League of Philippine Architects, and a member of the Board of Examiners for Architects of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC). Aside from numerous projects in the Philippines, De Castro designed buildings in Saipan, Guam; Taipei, Taiwan; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and several cities in Saudi Arabia. De Castro is also noted for introducing the use of exposed aggregate finish, which eliminates the need to paint and repaint building exteriors, in the 1960s.
At the main plaza of the PNRI is a gigantic abstract monument by Eduardo Castrillo, entitled “Humane Growth of Nuclear Sciences”. Installed in 1977, the bronze sculpture is Castrillo’s visions of the sub-atomic particles moving through space.
Eduardo De Los Santos Castrillo (1942-2016) is a noted sculptor, who had defined the second wave of modernist sculpture in the Philippines. Castrillo graduated from the UST Fine Arts program, and first started at first as an illustrator for publishing before embarking into a career in public sculpture. In the course of time, Castrillo has represented the Philippines in many exhibitions abroad, and has also been commissioned to create monuments all over the country and overseas. He received the TOYM Award for sculpture (Ten Outstanding Young Men) in 1970, the 13 Artists Award by the CCP in 1970, Outstanding Makati Resident in 1971, Outstanding Sta. Ana Resident in 1974, Outstanding Son of Binan Award in 1980 from the Maduro Club, Outstanding Son of Laguna Award in 1980 from the Laguna Lion’s Club, Adopted Son of Cebu in 1996, the Far Eastern University Green and Gold Artist Award in 1998, and the Most Outstanding Citizen Award of Quezon City.
At the southern end of the PNRI plaza is Juan Sajid Imao’s 1992 statue commemorating Brig. Gen. Florencio Albanez Medina (1905-1990), the “Father of Philippine Atomic Energy”. Gen. Medina took his BS, MS and doctorate degrees in Chemistry at the U.P., which led to his assignment as the Chief of the Research and Development Center of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Council for Agricultural Research, and the Food and Nutrition Research Center. Gen. Medina was instrumental in the passage of the Philippine Nuclear Energy Act that created the PAEC, which he would eventually lead. And as the Chairman of the National Science Development Board (NSDB), Gen. Medina was elected Chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
Juan Sajid de Leon Imao(born 1971) is the second to the youngest son of Abdulmari Asia Imao (1936-2014), the first Moslem National Artist of the Philippines. Sajid, would go on to take up sculpture at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA), just like his father. Early on in his career, Imao was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which would slowly diminish his eyesight. Although this would mean the death of any artist, Sajid took this as a challenge to continue making sculptures. This led to many awards, such as the 2001 Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) award.
I remember visiting the PNRI in 1983, and seeing it in need of maintenance. Of the course of time, I would spy the PRR-1’s cone towering above the trees, as I would pass through Commonwealth Avenue. In my recent visit, I was surprised how well maintained the complex was, and how active the staff were. With the great fear of the dangers of nuclear energy, maybe our local scientists may still find solutions for harnessing this energy source for the good of mankind.