Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Wednesday said the Department of Energy (DOE) should study Vietnam’s experience in pursuing nuclear energy before considering the revival of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
Since 1958, Gatchalian said Vietnam explored nuclear energy for electricity generation but ended up scrapping it in 2016 primarily due to safety concerns and economics.
By the time the Vietnamese government agreed to cancel its pursuit of nuclear energy, the senator said the cost of four nuclear reactors had nearly doubled to US$18-billion.
Pursuing the program would mean additional pressure to Vietnam’s public debt. He also noted that since then, the estimated price of nuclear-generated electricity had increased from 4-4.5 US cents /kWh to 8 cents /kWh.
“Pinag-aralan ito ng Vietnam at nabigyan pa ng go-signal ng kanilang Kongreso para ituloy ang nuclear program (Vietnam thoroughly studied it when they were given by Congress the go-signal to pursue a nuclear program),” Gatchalian said.
“Pero noong 2016, kinansela nila ang proyekto dahil natuklasan nila na kulang sila sa mga safety at safeguard procedures at tumaas pa ang presyo ng kanilang kuryerte dahil nakadagdag sa presyo yung safety measures. Lumalabas na mayroon pang ibang mas mura, (But in 2016, they canceled the project because they discovered they lack the necessary safety and safeguard procedures and the price of electricity also increased because the safety measures provided additional cost. It turns out, there are cheaper alternatives),” he said.
Gatchalian said another reason the project was cancelled was due to the fact that electricity demand in Vietnam is not rapidly growing as projected.
In studying Vietnam’s case, Gatchalian pointed out how the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a drop in electricity generation since the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). He said electricity demand dwindled as operations of industrial facilities and commercial establishments scaled down.
Compared to Vietnam’s 2,000-megawatt plant, the senator said BNPP’s capacity is only 620 megawatts. Should plans to revive it push through, the government would have to spend around $1-billion to refurbish the obsolete control room, train personnel, and address numerous maintenance and safety checks.
“Kung gagamitin natin ang Bataan Nuclear Power Plant at ang pangakong magdudulot ito ng mas mababang presyo ay maaring hindi mangyari dahil lumang luma na ito at sa dami ng safety nets na kailangang ilagay doon ay baka mas magiging mahal pa ang presyo sa binabayaran natin ngayon (If we are going to use the BNPP and expect it to lower the price of electricity in the country, it might not happen, because it is already obsolete and there are so many safety nets that you need to consider and it may just cost us more money),” he explained.
“Dapat matuto tayo sa naging karanasan ng Vietnam, (So we must learn from Vietnam’s experience,” Gatchalian said.
President Duterte had earlier expressed his support to the DOE’s move to study the reopening of the BNPP and urged the agency to consult the residents of Bataan regarding the project.
Gatchalian said it is only proper for the government to consult stakeholders saying that operating a nuclear power plant is no simple technology and managing it poses serious risks to potential workers and residents.