DOE eyes regulatory framework before talks of new nuclear plants

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 09 2022 05:20 PM

A maintenance technician  ABS-CBN News
A maintenance technician walks along the central control room of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Morong, Bataan on Sept. 16, 2016. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking to create a nuclear regulatory framework first before going into talks about establishing new nuclear power plants in the country, its head said on Tuesday. 

Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla issued the statement when asked about whether his agency has already studied small nuclear power plants following business mogul Manny Pangilinan's interest in investing in such technologies.

"Right now we will focus... on one, establishing the regulatory framework," Lotilla said in a press briefing. 

Currently, he said, the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, an office under the Department of Science and Technology, regulates and promotes nuclear power. 

But this "is a big no, no," said the official. 

"You cannot be promoting something and saying you would be regulating it at the same time. These are the things we have to address," he added. 

Aside from this, the DOE must first address the concerns of communities when setting up new nuclear power plants so the country would really be prepared for it.

He said the government must be able "to regulate safely [and] to put up necessary standards." This may also be a regional cause, he noted, most especially in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) nuclear power goals. 

"Why cannot the ASEAN look at this as a region and then leverage their collective resources to put up, for example, a common regulatory system, a common training system, a common disaster response system and if you act together as a region, you can even bring the cost down," said Lotilla. 

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He also reiterated President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr's call that the country must adhere to the policies and standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency which strengthened the requirements following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011

He also mentioned that Senator Win Gatchalian, a former chairperson of the Senate Committee on Energy, had already "provided" funds for a study on nuclear power in the country but he has yet to see it. 

He did not elaborate.

The DOE in the previous administration said government would need a proper regulation framework and a strong foundation to build new nuclear power plants or revive the one in Bataan, given the wide skepticism surrounding it due to safety issues. 

Former President Rodrigo Duterte's Executive Order No. 164, which restarted the Philippines' nuclear energy program, laid down the foundation that integrated nuclear power in the country's energy mix. 

This was something that the current administration could leverage on, the DOE earlier said.

Marcos, during his first State of the Nation Address said "it was time to reexamine" the country's strategy in building nuclear power plants locally, noting that public-private partnerships would help fund future nuclear projects. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview on ANC's Headstart, said his government would help the country in its nuclear power push as this is "the answer to future energy needs and to dealing with climate change."

A partnership on nuclear power is underway, he said. 

"That’s something that I talked to the President about. We’re looking forward to pursuing that together," Blinken said.

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