MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed authorities to consult the residents of Bataan on the possible revival of the country's mothballed nuclear power plant located in the province north of the capital Manila, Malacañang said Thursday.
Duterte, in a meeting with Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, directed discussions to "start from the ground", said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.
"Tatanungin ang taong-bayan ng Bataan kung ano ba talagang gusto nila. Hindi pupuwedeng sa taas nanggagaling ang desisisyon," Roque told reporters in a briefing held from the said province.
(The residents of Bataan will be asked about what they want. The decision should not come from higher-ups.)
The Philippines shelled out $2.3 billion on the 621-megawatt Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, but decided not to operate it after the Chernobyl disaster and the collapse of dictator Ferdinand Marcos' rule.
The 2011 earthquake in Japan, which resulted in a leak in the Fukushima nuclear plant, revived concerns over the safety of the Bataan facility.
To help defray the cost of maintaining it, the government from 2009 opened the plant to tourists for a fee.
Tapping nuclear energy requires a high upfront investment, but lower fuel costs that can reduce electricity costs, Carlo Arcilla, director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute earlier said.
Philippine power rates, which are not state-subsidized, were ranked the 16th most expensive out of 44 countries surveyed in a 2016 study commissioned by power retailer Manila Electric Co. Japan topped the list.
Nuclear reactor builders Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co Ltd and Russia's Rosatom submitted plans in 2017 to rehabilitate the Bataan plant, at costs ranging from $1 billion to more than $3 billion, said engineer Mauro Marcelo who once oversaw the maintenance and preservation of the plant.
Other companies that have expressed interest include China's top nuclear power plant builder, China Nuclear Engineering and Construction, and Belgium's Tractebel, Marcelo had said.
Rehabilitating the Bataan plant would be the shortest nuclear route for the Philippines, taking about five years all up, versus about a decade for a new plant, said Marcelo.
"In my view, the nuclear policy may be issued during Duterte's term," Marcelo had said. "But to start the Bataan plant, I think it's still a long way to go."
Duterte has said safety will be his top consideration in deciding whether the country will pursue nuclear energy.
- With a report from Reuters