MANILA - The director of the Department of Science and Technology- Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI) has urged President Rodrigo Duterte to sign the draft of a national position that would allow the use of nuclear energy in the country’s energy mix, that could potentially bring down the inevitable rising costs of electricity significantly.
“I am making an appeal to the President to sign it,” DOST-PNRI Director Carlo Arcilla said in a press conference.
The draft national position is a result of the Executive Order 116 signed by the President last year, ordering formation of the Nuclear Energy Program Inter- Agency Committee (NEP-IAC) and tasked the Department of Energy, DOST and other agencies to conduct a “study for the adoption of a National Position on a Nuclear Energy Program (NEP)”.
The NEP-IAC is also ordered to “conduct a pre-feasibility study to evaluate and assess the need for and viability of introducing nuclear power”, “evaluate and formulate a national strategy”, and “recommend the necessary steps in the utilization of nuclear energy as well as existing such as but not limited to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.”
“This is the most important development in nuclear in the country since 1986 because finally, the President ’s office said ‘we want to explore the possibility in nuclear power’,” said Arcilla.
He is hoping the President would sign it before he steps down.
“We submitted the draft of the executive order of the national position almost one year ago. And the last I heard it is being reviewed by the Executive Secretary. So we are in a praying and waiting mood,” he said.
Despite concerns about nuclear energy, Arcilla insisted that it is “clean, resilient to extreme weather, and safe”.
In his presentation he showed that there are 450 nuclear power plants being used all over the world, and nearly 100 of them are in the United States.
The Philippines' only nuclear power plant- the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant which has never produced even a single watt— has the “exact same design” as South Korea’s Kori 1 Nuclear Power Plant, Slovenia’s Krsko Nuclear Power Plant and Brazil’s Angra 1 and 2 Nuclear Power Plants— all operating for 40 years “safely and profitably”.
Currently, South Korea has 23 nuclear power plants and has produced affordable electricity equal to “about half” of the Philippine’s electrical rates, while Slovenia produces power that is “1/10 cost of PH power”.
“Wala pong magsasabi na ‘dilapidated na ang BNPP (Bataan Nuclear Power Plant)’, di ninyo alam ang pinagsasabi ninyo. Kasi may tatlong exact same design na nag- ooperate pa ngayon,” he said.
If the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant becomes operational, based on Arcilla’s estimates, the cost difference would be significant.
“Kung sakali man, if we operated the BNPP, the fuel would (importation) cost $20 million and would fit inside a jeepney, that would last for 18 months. If it were a coal plant, 620 megawatts for the same 18 months, ang katumbas na power na kailangan ay 50 Panamax ships. Ang isang Panamax ship- 50,000 tons. Ang importation costs pa lang bago tumaas pa ang coal: $600 million. So ito na lang ang dahilan kung bakit pag-isipan nating kung hindi natin mag-shift sa nuclear power,” Arcilla explained.
Citing studies, Arcilla said Filipino families already spend more than 10 percent of their take-home money on electricity than other families living abroad.
“Napakamahal po niyan. Tanungin ninyo yung mga relatives ninyo abroad kung magkano ang porsyentong ginagastos sa kuryente, and you will see it is less than one percent,” he said. “Napaka-mahal, parusa sa taumbayan.”
Around 79 percent of the country’s population “support nuclear power”, Arcilla said, based on DOE surveys.
“Nuclear is cheaper than most energy sources,” he explained. While there are solar and wind energy options, he said this is not enough.
“Solar and wind, they have low capacity. There can only provide 30 percent so kailangan mo ng back- up power,” he said.
Malampaya gas “will run out in 3 years”, and may force the government to import more energy and result in a steep spike in electrical costs.
“Libre ang Malampaya ngayon, pag naubos yan mag- iimport tayo sa mga ships (cargo ship of LNG).. last year ang cost niyan $10 million. Tumaas ang presyo ngayon- $280 million... Ibig sabihin, pag naubos ang ating gas, pagbibili tayo ng ganyan, mataas ang kuryente ngayon, tataas po iyan in the next few years. So papasok na politicians natin, they really have to address the issue,” he said.
For off-the-grid areas, Arcilla said small modular nuclear reactors can be used.
The DOST-PNRI director said Duterte should sign the draft national position before he leaves office.
“If that national position is not signed, it means that the whole 19 milestones will not move forward. So any talk of the nuclear power will be theoretical. That’s how important it is,” he said.
“Ang problema lang nasa election mode na ang mga politicians natin, but hopefully the word will come to the President, that he will leave a very lasting legacy… I reaffirm this: we will have a crucial energy crisis in the next few months.”
“One of the first steps to curb potential problems there is to provide alternatives, and nuclear has to be one of them. There’s just no way out,” he added.
Arcilla said one of the “quickest way to go nuclear” is to “rehabilitate the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant”, which can last from 4-5 years.
“The costs are sound already, and there is an active proposal from the South Korean government to rehabilitate… with a budget of $1-2 billion, which is the cost of one coal plant for the same output. And they can do it within 5 years,” he said.