As the government’s search for reliable, safe and affordable power continues, the Department of Energy (DOE) has taken a technology-neutral stand on possible solutions to the country’s growing demand for energy and 100 percent electrification in line with the Duterte administration’s “Ambisyon 2040” vision of a fully-developed Philippines.
One of the possible alternatives to fossil fuel is nuclear energy, which was the subject of the “Nuclear Energy Forum” held by the University of the Philippines Engineering Center, Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) and the UP Engineering Research and Development Foundation Inc. at the Novotel Manila Hotel in Quezon City last August 22.
Experts from around the globe discussed both the advantages and disadvantages of the civilian use of nuclear power.
On the government side, Energy Undersecretary Donato Marcos explained that the department was considering nuclear power because of its capability to provide 75 percent of the country’s base load requirement.
“Strong economic growth and rising population will require more energy, plus the need for increased power capacity. Nuclear energy has proven to be economically viable, highly reliable and may contribute towards reducing the high cost of electricity and carbon dioxide emissions,” Marcos said.
Foreign experts like Jose Bastos of the Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) emphasized that a nuclear energy program was a long-term engagement that requires careful planning, preparation and investments in time, finances and human resources.
Dr. Ahmed Abdulla, a post-doctoral fellow from the University of California-San Diego, acknowledged that nuclear energy produces lesser carbon emissions.
He, however, pointed out that the use of nuclear power does not necessarily guarantee the energy security that any country needs.
Abdulla said the public should always be involved.
“Community engagement and involvement is always a good thing,” he said, noting that information dissemination is important to avoid conflicts and opposition if and when a nuclear program is implemented.
The need for safety and security protocols for the handling and disposal of hazardous nuclear waste, which takes centuries to break down, was also stressed during the forum.
This is why a legislative framework has to be in place, said Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate committee on energy.
“Because nuclear energy is a long-term commitment, and the political lifespan of any leader is only six years, we have to ensure that the laws continue, provide check and balance and appropriations. If we choose to enter into a nuclear energy program, we have to make sure that we have enough funds to support and regulate the industry,” he said.
The forum also raised the question on whether the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) project would be revived by the current administration.
Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella reiterated that before any action can be done on the BNPP or before any other nuclear energy project can even begin, the national position must be firm.
“Before we can talk about projects, we have to have a national position on the program itself and not a specific project. What happened in the past was that we built the project first before we agreed on a national position,” he said.
Marcos explained that there was a plan to conduct a thorough assessment of the BNPP by the DOE and nuclear technology experts from Russia, Japan, China, Korea and France and only the recommendation of the Nuclear Energy Program Implementation Organization (NEPIO) will determine the national position on whether the BNPP can be rehabilitated or not.
“We need nuclear technology. It’s not just for energy purposes but also for agricultural, medical, industrial and commercial applications,” he said.
Winding up the forum, the executive director of the UP National Engineering Center, Dr. Mili-Ann Tamayao, said the commitment must withstand time and political eras.
“In a democratic country like ours, this can only be done when people are informed and actively engaged in the decision process. However, the political process can be arduous and endless but it can result in a more durable policy,” she said.