'Nuke power no cure-all to RP energy woes'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2009 04:06 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2009 02:03 AM

Tapping nuclear energy to stave off a looming energy crisis in the Philippines could lead to a host of new problems including a buildup of high-level nuclear waste from the radioactive material used to power nuclear plants, a foreign analyst said Monday.

Yves Marignac, executive director of the World Information Service on Energy-Paris, said the proposal in Philippine Congress to recommission the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant has several flaws especially on the issue of managing spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Marignac said countries operating nuclear reactors such as France have yet to solve the problem in the rise of nuclear waste. "[France] has developed re-processing for managing spent fuel and it's been a mess. There are no solutions for long-term, high level waste so far. The proposal that the Philippines could get rid of the spent fuel, send it to a reprocessing country and then get the uranium and plutonium back to re-use and get rid of the high level waste is unlikely to happen for many reasons," he said in an interview on ANC.

He said foreign companies that reprocess nuclear waste have a provision in their contracts that state that the final waste from the reprocessing should go back to the original source.

"If the Philippines goes in contract with France, there's a provision in French law that would force the Philippines to get the vitrified waste, which is the very high level waste you get after reprocessing. The problem with this high level waste is roughly the same problem with the spent fuel," he said.

Some 7,200 tons of high-level radioactive waste is generated each year worldwide, according to the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB). So far, no country has a complete system in place yet for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel or other high-level waste. Most plants preserve the nuclear waste at the plant site while some waste is dumped underground.

Marignac said it is unlikely that the Bataan nuclear facility could use reprocessed uranium or plutonium because of its old design.

He also warned of the illusory effects of the nuclear option to deliver massive quantities of low carbon energy and providing a solution to energy security and climate change.

Again citing France as an example, he said nuclear reactors there only cover 20 percent of the real energy needs of the population as the demand for oil remains high. He said the French government is spending more than 40 billion euros to import fuel, which is the same amount spent by the government during the oil crisis of the 1970s.

"Although we developed 50 reactors, we are back to the same economic problem of spending large amounts of money to import fuel than when we launched the program. France is relying as much on oil as when it launched its nuclear program," he said.

He said the French nuclear program addressed energy supply without addressing the energy demand side. He cited for example the increase in electricity demand to heat buildings because French architects failed to build better insulated buildings.

RP should focus on renewables

Marignac said another stumbling block to the Philippines' nuclear energy plan is the lack of uranium and plutonium, which are used to power nuclear reactors.

He said Philippine lawmakers should focus on renewable energy sources first before looking at the nuclear option. He added that architects should also focus on building infrastructure that runs on the highest level of energy efficiency possible.

"It's better to look at the potential for energy savings especially in new infrastructure and certainly the potential for renewables. Once you've done that, you can consider other options but you should be aware that the nuclear option is counterproductive in developing the priority options I've mentioned first," he said.

"As a developing country, you can still build lots of infrastructure. I think any investment in view of the energy and climate policy is best put on additional cost to bring those additional infrastructure to the best level of energy efficiency than in any new power generation," he added.

He said that to power the country's 7,100 islands, the Philippines should look at "decentralized solutions, a decentralized grid and decentralized energy provisions."

"You may not have uranium but you have lots of resources in developing renewables," he said.  David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com