DOE says measures must be in place for safe revival, creation of power plants in PH

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 25 2022 05:50 PM | Updated as of May 25 2022 06:37 PM

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
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 rehabilitation of the Marcos-era Bataan nuclear power plant is possible under the direction of an executive order, but making it fully operational may still take years given the country's current nuclear infrastructure, the Department of Energy (DOE) said on Wednesday. 

Energy Undersecretary Gerardo Erguiza, Jr. said the country's nuclear energy push is possible under the next administration as more countries veer away from the use of coal-fired power plants, which have contributed to large carbon emissions detrimental to the environment.

"Kung wala ang nuclear energy program, hindi tayo nakabuo ng framework. Hindi basta-basta ganoon ang pagpapatayo ng nuclear power dahil kailangan nito ng 6 to 8 years in preparing the framework. At ito ang nangyari sa term ni President Duterte," the official explained in a televised briefing.

(We will not be able to complete a framework in the absence of a nuclear energy program. Building a nuclear power plant is not easy because it takes 6 to 8 years to prepare the framework. And that was what happened under President Duterte's term.)

"Mahabang proseso po yan (the process is long). That safety will be attained when we put up the nuclear power plant," he said.

Government needs 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, noted Erguiza.

"Sinabi ng Philippine Energy Plan natin hanggang 2040 at puwede na sa 2030, na puwede tayo maglagay ng nuclear energy sa ating energy mix," he added. 

(Our Philippine Energy Plan until 2040 states that we can add nuclear energy in our energy mix.)

"Hindi ibig sabihin na porke gusto na lang natin magpatayo ay itutuloy natin. Nakasaad ito sa ating framework." 

(This does not mean that just because we want a nuclear power plant is we can build it easily. This is stated in our framework.)

Watch more News on iWantTFC

Erguiza said 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 can be something that presumptive president Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. can build on if he is really serious in looking at nuclear power as an energy source, said Erguiza.

"Mahirap na doon sa pagpaptupad ng nuclear energy program at eventually pagpapatayo ng nuclear power plant dahil hindi makakapagpatayo ng isang bagong plant o i-rehabilitate ang Bataan nuclear power plant kung walang... framework na nabuo ni President Duterte," he said.

(Implementing the nuclear energy program and the eventual creation of a nuclear power plant are difficult in the absence of a framework.)

There should be four strong foundations in building or rehabilitating a nuclear power plant, the energy official noted, including a national policy, adherence to international standards, consultation with stakeholders, and regulatory framework to allay safety concerns. 

"Kailangan ito lahat ng concerns, including safety, ay maisabatas para sigurado na may ngipin. Hindi lang pinag-uusapan ito na may konsepto. Nasa batas po yan at nakasaad doon paano mo ma-attain itong safety na ito," he said. 

(All concerns, including safety, must be legislated to ensure they will be implemented. This is not just a concept. There should be a law and it must be stated there what the safety precautions are.)

Built in 1976 in response to an energy crisis, and completed in 1984, the government mothballed the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant two years later following the ouster of then President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., and the deadly Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Since 2009, the BNPP has been opened as a tourist attraction for a fee, helping defray the cost of maintaining it.

NUCLEAR POWER AS A VIABLE ENERGY SOURCE?

The administration's Philippine Energy Plan 2020 to 2040 has deeply considered the inclusion of nuclear in the energy mix but noted the need of a legislative framework so the country could fully embark on this. 

So far, a measure has been passed in the House of Representatives for the creation of the Philippine Atomic Regulatory Commission in May last year to "provide a safe and secure culture both for non-power and power application of nuclear," while its counterpart bill is still pending in the Senate, said the DOE in its report. 

This, among other strategies mentioned, can prepare the country for the shift to nuclear power, according to the agency. The report also laid down several guidelines and developments on the matter. 

"Ngayon nakikita natin na pababa ang paggamit natin ng coal-fired power plants at eventually magshi-shift tayo sa nuclear power po according to our direction," said Erguiza.

(Now we see that the country's focus on coal-fired power plants is already diminishing, and we will eventually shift to the nuclear power according to our direction.)

But for Greenpeace Philippines, among the environmental groups pushing for renewable energy use, the shift to nuclear energy is "dangerous and expensive."

The country already has the resources to shift to renewable energy, which is more "reliable and safe" and the "solution to the climate crisis", it said.

Greenpeace said nuclear power plants will generate tons of toxic waste. 

"The amount of high-level radioactive toxic waste on the planet is growing-- and we still have no idea what to do with it. There is now around 300,000 tons of high-level toxic waste around the world," said the environment group. 

"Doubling the capacity of nuclear power worldwide in 2050 would only decrease greenhouse gas emissions by around 4 percent. But in order to do that, the world would need to bring 37 new large nuclear reactors... every year from now on, year on year, until 2050," it added.

In a press conference on Monday, Marcos Jr. said the country needs to be ready with higher power supply "if we are going to industrialize post-pandemic."

He noted that a power facility needs to have "at least three years of lead time" before it can be fully utilized.

Earlier this year, Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) Director Carlo Arcilla said the Philippines may start running a nuclear power plant in five years if the proposed program will proceed without any obstacle.

The Philippines depends mostly on imported fossil fuel and renewable energy for its energy source, an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation study in 2013 had said.