Lawmaker seeks revival of Bataan nuclear plant

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
Lawmaker seeks revival of Bataan nuclear plant
This photo taken on April 5, 2022 shows a security guard walking in front of the main gate of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Morong in Bataan province, north of Manila.

MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker has asked the government to revive the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), which is “just sitting idle for the last four decades,” claiming it can produce cheaper electricity for the country.

Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. has authored House Bill No. 2921, the Philippine Nuclear Act of 2022, for government activation and utilization of the $2.118-billion BNPP (about P117 billion).

Teves said the other option is to acquire another nuclear facility “in case the existing power plant is no longer feasible for operation.”

“The BNPP will help our country cut electricity cost by almost half, in comparison to the rates of the coal-fired power plants,” he noted.

Citing the 441 nuclear power plants currently in operation in at least 30 countries, Teves said this “shows that nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity, which could also operate without interruption, making it a more reliable source of energy assuring of meeting the country’s supply demands.”

Under HB 2921, the National Power Corp., Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), and the Departments of Energy, of Environment and Natural Resources, and of Science and Technology should conduct an initial validation on the feasibility of the BNPP operations to make sure that it would be within the internationally accepted nuclear power industry standards.

“In the event this nuclear power plant is no longer feasible for operation, I urge the government to construct another nuclear plant or a nuclear barge, which is also safer against the earthquake, so that Filipinos can avail of lower electricity cost,” Teves said.

Nuclear risks

Critics have pointed out that Japan, which is heavily reliant on nuclear energy for its power needs, has the highest electricity cost in Asia.

Concerns have also been raised about nuclear waste, which cannot be recycled and remains permanently radioactive.

The Philippines sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire, with regular earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that can cause catastrophic accidents in a nuclear facility.

There are also concerns on who would accept a nuclear plant or barge near their communities.

The BNPP construction was started in 1975.

It was mothballed after the 1986 people power revolt amid reports that it sits near an earthquake fault, and a scandal involving an $80 million kickback allegedly paid by US builder Westinghouse to dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Last Tuesday, the House established a 25-member Special Committee on Nuclear Energy to focus on creating measures related to nuclear energy – from developing infrastructure for nuclear power plants to ensuring that costs are competitive.

PNRI hails House action on nuclear energy

PNRI Director Carlo Arcilla hailed the formation of this special committee, seeing this as a big push to hasten the country’s move to tap zero-emission nuclear energy for electricity.

“It’s a very good development,” Arcilla told The STAR in a phone interview.

He said the development could expedite the legislative requirements and processes needed to establish the regulatory and commercial environment in which a nuclear energy industry could be developed.

Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco has been elected as the chairman of the Special Committee on Nuclear Energy.

Lawmakers also amended the jurisdiction of the existing committee on energy to explicitly state that nuclear energy, sources and infrastructures will be beyond its jurisdiction.

Arcilla said that the congressional special committee can work closely with the seemingly dormant Nuclear Energy Program Inter-Agency Committee to galvanize it back to action and resume the national government’s direction at taking a second look at reviving the proposals to commission the mothballed BNPP.

“They can’t ignore the BNPP. It is the most viable way, it offers the fastest way for the government to tap zero emission nuclear energy in a significant way and bring in significant volume of nuclear power to our electricity supply,” Arcilla said.

He noted that small modular reaction nuclear technology was largely still at the development stage and could only produce a limited amount of electricity due to the limitations of the reactor size. – Rainier Allan Ronda

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