Sleeping monsters

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - October 3, 2020 - 12:00am

Great mothballs of fire! The push for nuclear energy has ignited. Since 2016, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi has been a man on a mission. He is committed to jump starting a viable nuclear energy strategy.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 2017 outlook for Southeast Asia forecast regional energy demand to grow by as much as 60 percent by 2040. The Philippine demand for electricity is estimated to reach more than 30,000 megawatts (MW) by 2030. Pandemic or no, our current dependable capacity from existing power plants will not realistically supply that. We’ll need to conjure up around 70 percent more. This is one reason why our power costs continue to be the highest in the region.

But the catch-up is on slow burn. There aren’t any power plants expected to go online until next year at the earliest. Fossil fuels, still the most economical and readily available source, dominate our primary energy mix at 60.2 percent. The DOE’s vision for a sustainable future, however, remains to be one that is low carbon. The renewable and alternative energy industries are built around the prospect of replacing the coal, oil and natural gas that drive our energy needs.

Our energy security requires substantial self-sufficiency but reliance on indigenous energy sources has been on the downtrend from increased dependence on oil and imported coal. The Malampaya natural gas reserves are on schedule to be depleted in the next five years. Accordingly, the pressure for long term options and diversification of energy sources builds up. Thus, the open mind for nuclear. It is supposedly cheaper, faster and cleaner.

Gathering steam. In his first months on the job, President Duterte initially ruled out a return to nuclear. He immediately reconsidered his position. Since then, he has given Sec. Cusi a wide berth. From 2016, his DOE has been avidly partnering with the IAEA to relaunch our nuclear energy program. Last July’s signing of EO 116 is, in itself, a milestone moving forward. The EO constituted an Inter-Agency Committee to study the adoption of a National Position on a nuclear energy program in accordance with pertinent IAEA guidelines, relevant laws, rules and regulations. Once we have a National Position, i.e. our preliminary position and evaluation based on IAEA standards, this will be elevated to a National Decision and serve as basis of our nuclear power program.

Of course, the nightmare scenarios will continue to haunt any decision to push ahead. Fukushima. 3 Mile Island. Chernobyl. In the land of volcanoes, typhoons and earthquakes, who wouldn’t worry? Plus, the issue of how to dispose of nuclear waste remains unresolved.

The mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) remains to be an option. Former Cong. Mark Cojuangco, staunch advocate for the BNPP rehabilitation, and Dr. Carlo Arcilla, director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, vouch for the safety of the plant in the event of a leak or natural calamity.

This week, the President has instructed that consultations with Bataan residents be undertaken. The nuclear train has left the station. Sooner or later, we will have to come to terms with the prospect of a nuclear power reactor in our backyard.

Not even for a minute. For a while there it looked like touch and go on whether 1,500 nurses, with signed contracts to go abroad, were going to get the green light for their greener pastures.

When the POEA first announced its star-crossed deployment ban on health professionals last April 2, it caused an uproar. By April 13, the POEA had doubled back and allowed workers, with completed paperwork as of March 8, to fly out.

The drama got its episode two this September. An informal group, tagging themselves as unwilling captives or prisonurses, advocated publicly for the government to revisit the policy. They invoked their liberty to fly to where they choose to go. No less than Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin articulated their position through his vigorous twitter platform.

The right to travel is not absolute. The Constitution limits it in the interest of national security, public safety and public health, as may be provided by law. One such law, the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1985, authorizes deployment bans in the national interest or when public welfare requires it.

Nonetheless, PRRD compassionately relaxed the ban again for this second batch of stranded health workers to find their luck. Well done, Mr. President.

New Year, New Normal. Ushio Inc. of Japan has developed, in partnership with Columbia University, a world’s first “benign” UV light. The product’s UV rays are at 222 nanometer wavelength. Hence its name Care 222. Conventional UV light fixtures are at 254-nanometers and are only used to disinfect unoccupied spaces. At that range, they can cause skin cancer and damage the eyes.

The Care 222 UV lamp is targeted for disinfection of congested spaces such as public transport and office buildings. For now, it is distributed for industrial use but Ushio is also teaming up with Toshiba to distribute general-purpose lamps with Care 222 emitters as early as January.

Fortune magazine has included Care 222 in its annual Change the World list.

Pride. The Cultural Center of the Philippines announced last July the recipients of its GAWAD CCP Para sa Sining Awards for 2020. This is the highest honor given by the CCP. The list of champions who have made outstanding contributions to enriching arts and culture is led by beloved Professor Cristina Valera Turalba, for Architecture. One of the country’s first women architects, she is recognized for consistent outstanding work in heritage conservation, sustainable construction and environmental planning.

Architect Turalba is in equally elevated company. Honored with her are the great  Lualhati Bautista for literature, art patron Danny Dolor (Tanging Parangal for Development and Support for the Arts), Raul Sunico for music, Nonoy Froilan for dance, among others.

Meant to be a triennial event, the last time the citations were given out was in 2015.

Happy birthday, Congressman Edward P. Maceda!

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