Government open to tapping nuclear power

Danessa Rivera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is reviving its nuclear power program as it hosts a three-day international nuclear energy conference aimed to help the country make a well-informed decision on nuclear power development.

Nuclear is seen as a viable choice for the country’s energy needs because it is high on productivity and reliability, low on cost and emissions, and more cost efficient in the long term, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said in his speech during the start of the International Nuclear Conference yesterday.

“Pursuing the path towards nuclear power for the Philippines may not be a walk in the park. But this regional conference is definitely a step forward in the right direction,” he said.

Cusi said he is not against the use of nuclear energy but as Energy secretary, it is his duty to study all options to ensure power supply.

The Philippine government, in partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC), has convened global experts on nuclear energy development for a three-day conference, which forms part of the steps being undertaken by the Department of Energy (DOE) for the nuclear power option, Cusi said.

“My point is just that, with all the new findings, technological advancements and successful experiences of countries around the world, nuclear energy holds much promise for our national interest, especially in light of our collective quest to implement our long-term energy plans,” he said.

In the same event, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said the push for nuclear power should be based on scientific evidence and not on political or ideological considerations.

“We are here to discuss prospects of nuclear power. This conference will surely start a debate on nuclear power… as we will be educated on the pros and cons of nuclear power,” he said.

While experts are set to present data on the use of nuclear power, IAEA deputy director general Mikhail Chudakov said they will not push for the adoption of the technology in the country, which should make the decision.

“In IAEA, we’re not in a position to push for nuclear power. It’s a sovereign decision of a country,” he said.

As for IFNEC, it is also not in the business to decide if the country is ready for nuclear power, the cooperation’s co-chair Alexander Burkart said. “We’re here to help a country make an informed decision,” he said.

To review the country’s nuclear program, Cusi said a nuclear policy body will be formed composed of the DOE, National Power Corp., Philippine Nuclear Research Institute and other stakeholders.

“We’re going to revive that and fortify it, to include more stakeholders,” he said.

Included in the review is the possibility of reviving the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) built in the 1980s with a capacity of 620 megawatts (MW).

Cusi said the BNPP will be inspected on Thursday to determine its present status, while there will be different discussions on the facility during the conference.

The BNPP was supposed to operate commercially in 1986 but was mothballed due to strong opposition from environmental and cause-oriented groups over safety concerns and reports former president Ferdinand Marcos received about $80 million in kickbacks from builder Westinghouse.

In reviving the country’s only nuclear power plant, IAEA’s Chudakov said it can be reopened but it will require necessary assessments.

“The station cannot stay like it was before. Every year, you have lessons, new guidelines and the facility needs an upgrade every year pending investigation, scientific information. To re-open [the facility] is also a question of money,” he said.

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