The Philippines plans to restart its nuclear facility after abandoning the project for over three decades.
The country’s new president, Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr., sought the help of South Korea on 23 May to reopen its nuclear power plant in Bataan (Proctor, 2022).
In February 2022, former President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order to establish a nuclear energy program to expand the country’s power generation.
Executive Order 164, signed on 28 February, adopts the national position for a nuclear energy program stating that it is a “process that starts with the inclusion of nuclear power in the energy mix based on a pre-feasibility study on the need for and viability of nuclear power'” (Duterte signs, 2022).
The Philippines built a nuclear power plant, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), in the late 1970s, but the project was stopped in the mid-1980s and has not produced electricity ever since despite its price tag of $2.3 billion under the former president the late, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.
His son, the new Philippine President, and with the same namesake, Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos, Jr., has revived discussions to operate the site amid the current energy crisis that saw fossil fuel prices soar (P.H. Nuclear, 2022).
Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Philippine Nuclear Research Institute Directory Carlo Arcilla says that the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is almost complete and can be operational within the next four to five years, depending on “political will.” And, as a regulator, it must ensure that the facility is safe to operate. Arcilla also notes that adding nuclear energy to the country’s energy mix can help reduce the cost of electricity in the country, especially those not connected to the main grid (P.H. Nuclear, 2022).
Rehabilitating the old nuclear facility will be done through the assistance of South Korea, which offered to do the work for US$1.2 billion.
According to Arcilla, this cost is much less than the US$8 billion needed to build a new nuclear facility. The Philippine nuclear facility will be modelled after South Korea’s 40-year-old nuclear power plant.
The rising prices of fossil fuels and the global push to shift to zero-emissions fuel and power sources make nuclear power an attractive power source.
U.S. President Joe Biden and the International Energy Agency (IEA) agree that nuclear plants are critical to meet the global net-zero carbon emissions and the growing demands for power wide, which is becoming vital as prices for fossil fuel and natural gas soar due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
According to Alex Whitworth, head of Asia power and renewables research at Wood Mackenzie, Asia will have the most significant demand for power in the next few years.
“About 80% of power demand growth in the next few years is going to be in Asia given the economic deterioration in Europe and the U.S.”, Whitworth says (Dela Cruz, Tan, and Gardner, 2022).
Meeting this demand will require Asia Pacific to attract a US$2.9 trillion investment in power generation in the next decade.
The shifting public opinion on nuclear power due to high energy prices and the need to slash emissions to meet net-zero emissions targets empower newly elected leaders of the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea to build more nuclear power plants to meet current and future energy demands.
Unlike fossil fuel-fired power plants, nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide. But the processes for mining and refining uranium ore – which serves as a nuclear fuel, require vast amounts of energy. Additionally, nuclear power plants also use large amounts of metal and concrete, carbon-intensive materials, to build (Nuclear explained, 2021).
Arcilla says 450 nuclear power plants worldwide are operating between 50 to 60 years. He adds that the U.S. alone has almost 100 nuclear plants, which generate 20% of its power demand (P.H. Nuclear, 2022).
In the Philippines, although the present government is supportive of reviving its 30-year-old nuclear facility, concerns persist regarding the safety of operating a nuclear power plant and managing its waste which cannot be recycled and remains permanently radioactive. The Philippines’ location in the Pacific Ring of Fire and its exposure to regular earthquakes and volcanic eruptions pose a high risk.
A Philippine lawmaker, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr., who authored House Bill No. 2921, the Philippine Nuclear Act of 2022, for government activation and utilization of the BPNN, says that doing so will help our country cut electricity costs by almost half, in comparison to the rates of the coal-fired power plants,” he noted (Crisostomo, 2022).
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.”
Proctor, D. (2022, May 24). Philippines May Restart Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Project. Powermag. Retrieved from https://www.powermag.com/philippines-may-restart-bataan-nuclear-plant-project/
Duterte signs E.O. outlining national policy on nuclear energy. (2022, March 3). CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://www.cnnphilippines.com/business/2022/3/3/Duterte-EO-164-nuclear-energy-program.html
Dela Cruz, E., Tan, F. & Gardner, T. (2022, August 5). Analysis: Global energy crisis drives rethink of nuclear power projects. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/global-energy-crisis-drives-rethink-nuclear-power-projects-2022-08-04/
P.H. Nuclear Research Institute: Bataan nuclear plant can be operated in 4-5 years if approved. (2022, August 10). CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2022/8/10/Bataan-Nuclear-Power-Plant-can-be-operated-in-4-5-years-if-approved.html
Crisostomo, S. (2022, August 15). Lawmaker seeks revival of Bataan nuclear plant. Philstar Global. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2022/08/15/2202688/lawmaker-seeks-revival-bataan-nuclear-plant
Nuclear explained. (2021, December 17). EIA. Retrieved from https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/nuclear-power-and-the-environment.php
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