DOE prodded to disclose results of P266-M nuclear power study

Published August 10, 2022, 3:26 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Department of Energy (DOE) is prodded to submit to the Senate and make public the P266-million nuclear power development study, which results have been unavailable until now.

In a public hearing, Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Raffy Tulfo has formally requested current Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla to furnish the legislators a copy of the government-funded nuclear feasibility study that was commissioned during the term of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.

Lotilla also conveyed that “right now, we don’t know what happened to the study – what the results are, and we’re trying to find out exactly if there was an output.”

The DOE chief acknowledged that the previous administration actually commissioned a study, but said “I still haven’t seen it and Senator Win (Sherwin Gatchalian) was saying – Congress provided certain amount for the conduct of that study.”

This was confirmed by former Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Sherwin T. Gatchalian, stating “We appropriated close to P266 million for the study of the possibility of injecting nuclear power into our grid.”

He expounded that the allocation for the study “was actually an amendment from the Senate to include that amount precisely to formulate a study and use science-based evidence, data as well as research to come up with an educated recommendation to the Senate and also to the President”

Gatchalian, likewise, said “Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any output of that study and P266 million is no small amount, so I would like to support the message of the Chairman that the study should be brought out to the open and make everyone understand what is the result of that study.”

Tulfo primarily inquired if the regulatory frameworks, policy toolbox as well as the safety measures of the “nuclear renaissance” ambition of the Philippines are already in place if the government will seriously pursue this as an added technology option in the energy mix.

At this stage though, Lotilla only noted that the “the previous administration created a body to explore a nuclear power policy, so we want to build on whatever has already been done; and to make sure that whatever feasibility study in the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is done by an independent, credible consultant with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidance.”

The energy secretary asserted that the instruction of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was to ensure “safety standards” and to “comply with all strengthened requirements imposed by the IAEA; especially after the Fukushima incident in Japan.”

“If a developed country like Japan could suffer an accident like that (nuclear meltdown in 2011), how do we ensure that in the case of the Philippines, we can in fact live up to the standards that we will impose upon ourselves?,” said Lotilla.

The Duterte administration attempted to revive the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and had likewise entertained alternatives of deploying small modular reactors (SMRs) – even if these are still at “experimental or pilot phases” in many countries.

Until today, the array of issues and concerns when it comes to nuclear power developments remain long and varied – from public acceptance; humongous upfront capital investment; recycling and storage/disposal of spent fuel; safety and equipment redundancy installation as well as siting issues; nuclear liability and coverage; and most especially the policy and regulatory frameworks which are still absent in the country’s sphere of policymaking.

Fundamentally, “social acceptance” comes as the biggest initial hurdle that the government must address, with many targeted host communities still taking on that “not in my backyard” mindset.

And in the restructured realm of the Philippine energy sector that is now largely private sector driven, nuclear power facilities would also have extreme struggle finding their place under merchant market conditions.

Beyond the proposed repowering of the BNPP, the Marcos administration is also finding its way into exploring the place of nuclear in the country’s energy future – including the deployment of new technologies such as modular nuclear facilities.

The energy department argued that on a “levelized cost basis” through the technology’s life cycle (which could reach up to 80 years), nuclear power will end up as an economical source of power supply for the country – one that could be high on productivity and reliability, and low on per kilowatt-hour cost as well as on emissions.