Lotilla eyes ASEAN-coordinated policy framing on nuclear power

Published August 14, 2022, 8:30 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

A “coordinated policy-framing” approach with member-economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is being eyed by the Philippines on its targeted nuclear power development, including planned deployment of small modular reactor (SMR) technologies.

Energy Secreary Raphael Perpetuo M. Lotilla said his department can explore “a regional approach with other ASEAN countries – because they are also planning to put up or explore putting up these nuclear power plants, especially in modular mode.”

The energy secretary expounded “we can come together, develop standards together; train people together and in case of emergencies, we can pool our resources together down to the disposal of nuclear waste, which is many decades down the line but we have to look at the full life cycle of the technology.”

Apart from the Philippines’ ‘nuclear renaissance’ ambition, the other ASEAN countries studying and may potentially traverse that same energy development track are Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia; as well as Vietnam, which after abandoning its earlier nuclear ambition, it is now resuscitating that plan for its long-term energy future.

Countries that have been operating nuclear power facilities resolutely cautioned that there are no short cuts to a power market’s foray into this type of technology installation – because policymaking and the crafting of regulations alone, including those on safety and security measures as well as the enhancement of manpower skill set, could take 10-15 years or even longer.

On proposed SMR installations, the recommendation of the energy secretary is for the country to plunge into it once the technology is already ‘commercially available’; which could take several more years down the road.

According to experts, SMRs are still at ‘pilot or demonstration phases’ of infrastructure buildup – and it may take 4 to 10 years more before they could be deployed with certainty on the safety features as well as at price points that will be highly affordable to consumers.

For some countries, like the US which is offering SMR tech deployment in the Philippines, there are disruptive concerns on its nuclear pathway – primarily on its requirement for uranium enrichment because it had traditionally depended heavily on Russia.

Natural uranium needs to be enriched by at least 3.0 to 5.0-percent before they could be fed as fuel into nuclear reactors for electricity generation.

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) noted that there are 40 to 60 different concepts and variants being experimented on when it comes to the deployment of small modular nuclear reactors.

SMRs are also called ‘small-scale reactors’ with capacities ranging from 10 megawatts to 300MW; and they are often classified to reflect method of fabrication and construction. There are also microreactors on capacity of less than 10MW; while considered as large-scale reactors are those of 300MW capacity and up.

At the stage where SMRs will already be viable for commercial-scale rolllout, these could be best suited as solution for micro-grids or even for domains with multiplicity of island landscapes.

Beyond the proposed new builds, the country’s nuclear power advocates are also relentlessly pushing for the repowering of the idled 620-megawatt Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

The biggest question, aside from social acceptance and technical viability however, is the cost that will be incurred in reviving the nuclear facility and placing it on “operations mode” – since calculations had been pegged at the range of $1.0 billion to US$2.0 billion.