Philippines Continues to Explore Nuclear Option Despite Japan Disaster, Groups Call on Gov’t to Exercise Caution

Dr. Giovanni Tapang said that the nuclear plant accident in Japan should serve as an ample warning to the Philippine government against rushing headlong into the revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.


Despite increasingly worrisome reports regarding the explosion in one of Japan’s nuclear power plants after last Friday’s 8.9 earthquake, the Philippine government has announced that it is still determined to explore and consider the nuclear energy option.

Energy officials said that the Aquino government would take the Japan disaster into consideration before it comes up with any policy decision regarding the development of nuclear energy as a power source in the country.

Energy Undersecretary Josefina P. Asirit said that as things stand, there is no existing Philippine policy on the use of atomic power. In interviews with the media, she said the disaster in Japan would not stop an ongoing technical study because, as she said, the government and its responsible agencies ” want to be kept abreast of technological innovations.”

Last January, the Korean firm Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) announced that it would participate in the conduct of a feasibility study on the safety of nuclear energy in the Philippines. According to reports, the company has declared its readiness to join any bidding on nuclear energy development.

A government owned-utility, Kepco is the world’s third largest nuclear energy provider with an installed nuclear generation capacity of 17,716 megawatts as of end-2008.

The Korean company has already conducted a feasibility study on the revival of the BNPP and said that re-powering it would cost at least $1 billion.

Based on a company profile, Kepco operates 20 commercial nuclear power units as of 2009, with eight more units currently under construction and an additional 10 units planned to be built by 2030.

A Cautious Approach to Nuclear Power

In the meantime, the Department of Energy (DoE) has said that it would continue to uphold its commitments to “harmonize” the Philippines’ nuclear power development program with counterparts in the Southeast Asian region. At the end of last year, the DoE announced that it would jumpstart this year its own technical study leading to that policy direction.

Energy Secretary Rene D. Almendras said the government is in the process of putting together a nuclear power policy. He admitted, however, that the agency is taking the “cautious approach.”

The Aquino government has not been definite on its stand on calls to completely scrap the 620-megawatt Bataan nuclear power facility. It has, however, announced that future options for nuclear development would be explored on new sites, and with the goal of deploying or utilizing “more advanced technologies.”

Almendras said the DoE’s technical study would monitor policy tracks being followed by other ASEAN countries.

In 2009, the member-countries of the ASEAN adopted the terms of reference (TOR) for the Nuclear Energy Cooperation Sub-sector Network (NEC-SSN), underscoring “the importance of reinvigorating and improving manpower skills in nuclear power projects” to guide the region’s nuclear development route.

Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are among the ASEAN countries seriously considering the “nuclear path” to advance their bids in the energy security race.

As for the Philippines, the energy secretary said the Aquino government has already allotted P100 million for the its feasibility study. The study is expected to lead to the formulation of a more concrete plan for the country’s nuclear program.

Science and Technology Secretary Mario G. Montejo, in an interview with media, said that it is still too early to discuss the local use of nuclear power in the context of the Japanese quake.According to him, even seismologists in Japan were surprised by the earthquake.

Almendras said seismic considerations in the Philippines and what happened in Japan “will definitely tip the safe scale.”

The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, meanwhile, said it was “closely monitoring the situation in Fukushima.”

The agency said a Radiological Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan would be issued in case a meltdown does occur and fallout becomes a threat to the Philippines. Part of the plan includes buying and distributing potassium iodide tablets to block the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine, a fallout component.

No to BNPP, Nuclear Power as a Responsible Option

Philippine activist groups under the No to BNPP Revival!, in the meantime, are not satisfied with the announcement that proponents are willing to retreat on their proposals to rehabilitate the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in Bataan. They said the Aquino government itself should announce that any plan to rehabilitate the BNPP will be automatically junked.

Early last year, the Pangasinan provincial board endorsed a proposal by then Rep. Mark Cojuangco for the province to host two nuclear power plants. Cojuanco’s wife, Kimi, has taken over Cojuangco’s seat in congress and is the main proponent for the revival of nuclear power plant in the House of Representatives.

In the aftermath of the nuclear plant explosion, however, Cojuanco has announced that she is putting her bill at the backburner. She admitted that what’s happening in Japan has dealt a “fatal blow” to her proposal.

Cojuangco filed House Bill 1291 seeking to revive the BNPP July last year at the beginning of the 15th Congress. She said that she amended the bill to appeal to critics and had included a “validation process” using internationally-accepted nuclear power industry norms to determine if the BNPP could be rehabilitated for commercial use.

Dr. Giovanni Tapang, convenor of the No to the BNPP Revival! and chairman of scientists group Agham (not the partylist group) said they are not against nuclear power as a solution to the country’s energy problems.

“We are not anti-nuclear power, but there are many other energy sources or means to generate energy that should be developed. Nuclear power is not the first option. Those pushing for the rehabilitation and operation of the BNPP are mainly in it for the profit that can be generated by the plant, and not because there is any real need for it,” he said.

“As an option, nuclear power should be there, but the government must abandon its headlong rush to reactivate the BNPP. The government should study the safety of all sites as well as the disposal of wastes. More importantly, it should take into account the wellbeing of its citizens. ”

Tapang said the opening of the BNPP will not benefit the Filipino people and instead expose the nation to unnecessary risks.

“Things also become problematic if the operations of a facility like the BNPP will be handed over to a private foreign firm like the Korean KEPCO Other firms from Russia, Japan and South Korea are reportedly interested in operating the BNPP.

“What should be done is to reverse the privatization of the power industry and build safe and reliable sources of electricity. The country has vast indigenous energy resources from fossil fuels to alternative energy that we can use if only the government stops selling these to private investors,” said Tapang.

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