Nuclear energy still an option for Philippines

BusinessWorld

Posted at Mar 14 2011 03:51 AM | Updated as of Mar 15 2011 01:30 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The nuclear energy option will continue to be considered by the government, officials yesterday said, with lessons from a disaster in Japan to be incorporated into any policy decision.

An explosion on Saturday at a unit of the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant north of Tokyo has raised meltdown fears and highlighted the dangers of atomic energy. A second unit at the plant is experiencing problems and neighboring nations are now watching wind directions if fallout becomes a problem.

The Philippines built a plant during the Marcos dictatorship but the facility was never commissioned due to safety concerns.

Proponents, however, want the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) rehabilitated and the Energy department, during the Arroyo administration, said it was not averse to the idea if safety was assured.

There is currently no policy calling for the use of atomic power, Energy Undersecretary Josefina P. Asirit yesterday stressed even as she said the disaster in Japan would not stop an ongoing technical study.

"We will of course take what happened in Japan into consideration," Ms. Asirit said in a telephone interview. "We will not stop our technical study because we want to be kept abreast of the technological innovations."

The Philippines, along with other Southeast Asian nations, is conducting a study the use of nuclear energy as a power source given oil price volatility. Several companies have asked about the possibility of building nuclear energy facilities in the country. The government also still has to decide on what to do with the BNPP, which reportedly will cost $1 billion to rehabilitate.

Science and Technology Secretary Mario G. Montejo told BusinessWorld it was still too early to discuss the local use of nuclear power in the context of the Japanese quake.

"We have to understand that even seismologists in Japan were surprised by the earthquake" Mr. Montejo said.

Energy Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras, for his part, said in a text message, "the biggest issue for us has always been seismic considerations so the Japan earthquake will definitely tip the safe scale."

Senators yesterday called for caution, noting that the Philippines is disaster-prone.

The nuclear incident in Japan, Sen. Loren B. Legarda said in a radio interview, is a "major argument against" reviving the BNPP, which is located near an earthquake fault line and the Mt. Pinatubo volcano.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said, "We should wait first and study this before we go back to discussions on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant."

Sen. Miriam P. Defensor Santiago has filed Senate Bill 2729 calling for a validation process that would either result in the revival or scrapping of the BNPP.

The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, meanwhile, said it was "closely monitoring the situation in Fukushima."

It said a Radiological Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan would be issued in case a meltdown does occur and fallout becomes a threat to the Philippines. Part of the plan includes buying and distributing potassium iodide tablets to block the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine, a fallout component.