Geoscientist on mothballed BNPP: 'We need to keep an open mind'

A California-based geoscientist believes that the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) can help solve the country's increasing energy demand while "meeting a low carbon diet".

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is seen during a tour around the BNPP compound in Morong town, Bataan province. (Reuters file)

Dr. Art Romero, a geoscientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Berkeley, California, stated that the country’s transition to cleaner energy based on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) roadmap is doable in a gradual fashion, without putting a heavy burden on the economy.

Romero made the statement as one of the panelists in a webinar on “Integrated Energy Solutions Addressing Security and Sustainability” hosted by the Department of Science and Technology- Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI), in partnership with the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (PhilAAST).

Romero believes that the country’s transition to cleaner energy based on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) roadmap is doable in a gradual fashion, without putting a heavy burden on the economy.

The Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) is a comprehensive roadmap of programs and projects in the energy sector to ensure sustainable, stable, secure, sufficient, accessible, and reasonably-priced energy.

According to DOST, he recommended some measures to secure energy sources. One of which is to facilitate the indigenous energy exploration and development for both conventional and clean energy sources to avoid the cost of importing oil. This would drive the cost down and help ordinary consumers.

He also mentioned that the second measure is the need to continue to diversify power generation, and distribution, while encouraging grid interconnectivity possible; increased competition drives prices down, and interconnected grids improve reliability and minimize power outages. The last proposed measure is the need to keep nuclear options open.

“From an economic standpoint, it may be cheaper to revive a mothballed facility than to build a new one. Note that nuclear is considered clean since it doesn’t contribute to carbon emission,” Romero explained.

Nuclear power is the second largest source of low-carbon electricity today. With almost 500 operating reactors globally, providing 10 percent of global electricity supply, nuclear power is safe as wind and solar, but its image has suffered from low probability, high consequence events like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Romero emphasized, however, the need to conduct due diligence, technical hazard studies, and engineering and safety reviews. Also, the need for government action support, especially on the need to raise public awareness of the consequences of global warming and the need for clean energy.

“We need public support to influence public officials to act. This is a global issue with a direct impact on the Philippines,” Romero said.

DOE reported that the total primary energy supply (TPES) in 2021 reached 60.3 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE), from 56.4 MTOE in 2020, indicating an increase in energy demand. Energy self-sufficiency, on the other hand, decreased from 52.6 percent in 2020 to 48.9 percent in 2021.

Michael O. Sinocruz, OIC-Director, Energy Policy and Planning Bureau of DOE, reported that coal remains the dominant fuel used for power generation at 58.2 percent in 2021, while renewable comprises 22.0 percent.

The country’s goal towards attaining the Clean Energy Scenario (CES) for the Filipinos by 2040 entails the Reference Scenario (business-as-usual) serving as the frontrunner but leveling it up by expanding the use of renewable energy and other energy technologies, strengthening energy efficiency and conservation, implementing appropriate information and communication technologies (ICT) in the energy chain, and building up energy resiliency. This will pave for the sector’s vision of energy security, sustainable energy, resilient infrastructure, a competitive energy sector, smart homes and cities, and empowered consumers.

The total required energy investment needed to realize the CES by 2040 will be USD 153 billion. From this, the investment needed for renewable energy alone would be USD 94.3 billion.