Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has recently ordered energy authorities to study the possible use of the mothballed Bataan nuclear power plant and to consult the concerned communities.
The Philippines spent US$2.3 billion on a 621MWe Westinghouse pressurised water reactor at Bataan, which was completed in 1984 but was never fuelled or commissioned.
Previous discussions on reviving the Bataan plant led to nothing. However, it is expected to be a more serious part of any nuclear discussion this time. Filipino officials have also been talking with Russian state atomic energy agency Rosatom about a feasibility study on small modular reactors (SMRs).
Rosatom, along with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co submitted plans to bring Bataan online in 2017, with costs ranging from US$1 billion to more than US$3 billion. Rosatom signed a Memorandum of Intent on cooperation on SMRs with the Philippines Department of Energy in October 2019.
The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, located in Bataan Province to the west of the capital Manila, is the only such facility in Southeast Asia. The decision to build the plant was made in 1976 by the authoritarian government of then President Ferdinand Marcos. With cooperation from the U.S., the facility was completed in 1985.
But with the collapse of the Marcos regime during the People Power Revolution in February 1986 and then the Chernobyl nuclear accident in April of the same year, the new administration of President Corazon Aquino decided, just before the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was due to start commercial operations, that it should not open.
Currently, the Bataan plant is now open to the public for field trips and other purposes. The building is showing visible signs of age and inside it, the reactor is laid bare. An old-fashioned telephone is still in the control room.
However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded in an eight-day mission in December 2018 that the Philippines’ nuclear energy programme “is following a systematic approach to finalise its nuclear power strategy and complete the associated infrastructure development,” according to Milko Kovachev, head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section.
The INIR team noted that the NEPIO has completed several studies and that draft legislation addressing nuclear safety, security, and safeguards, and that set up of an independent nuclear regulatory body was under development. It also acknowledged that the Philippines “recognises the importance of open and transparent public communication,” as well as the need to include a broader range of stakeholders as it prepares to introduce nuclear power.
The Philippines deregulated its electricity market in 2001. Although energy demand is expected to grow in the long run, private companies have shied away from the risk of making big investments in the sector, resulting in a shortage of power generation capacity.
Due to its unstable power supply, the country has one of the highest electricity charges in the region. The Department of Energy recently announced a plan to restart the idle nuclear power plant as early as in 2027, in an effort to diversify its power sources.
President Duterte issued the latest directive following a meeting with Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco, according to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
Duterte recognised that any decision on whether or not to exploit nuclear power should emanate from the people, not just from the government, Roque said.
In July, the President issued Executive Order No 116 creating an inter-agency committee to evaluate and assess the need and viability of introducing nuclear power into the energy mix. The Nuclear Energy Programme Inter-Agency Committee, to be chaired by the Department of Energy, must take into consideration the economic, security, and environmental implications as well as engagement of the public and the relevant stakeholders, according to the President. The committee was also directed to review the existing legal framework and study the viability of nuclear energy. On 2 October, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, welcomed Duterte’s directive. He told GMANewsTV it bolstered his belief that reviving the Bataan plant needs careful and serious study of the risks associated with managing nuclear power plants.