DOE sets 2,500MW nuclear capacity in energy mix

At a glance

    • DOE targets 2,500MW nuclear power capacity by 2032
    • Investment approach will be market-driven
    • The Philippines has yet to overcome 19 infrastructure development issues set by the IAEA
    • Legislation and regulation-crafting will be key in institutionalizing the nuclear renaissance pathway of the country

The Department of Energy (DOE) is targeting to set at least 2,500 megawatts (MW) of nuclear power capacity contribution to the country’s energy mix by 2032, according to a ranking official of the agency.

Energy Undersecretary Sharon S. Garin told reporters “we are including nuclear power in the energy plan already, we will start by 2032 at 2,500MW, that’s the target.”

The development paradigm being signaled by the department will be a market-driven approach once the nuclear power-anchored legislated policies and regulatory frameworks are already instituted.

The energy official qualified that beyond regulation, the government will also cast criteria on project siting – including requirements that these nuclear power installations shall not be straddling fault lines; or they shall be built within prescribed distance from a volcano.

In terms of technology deployment – whether that will be for small modular reactors (SMRs); greenfield conventional builds or repowering the mothballed Bataan nuclear power plant; Garin emphasized that those decisions shall already be left to the discretion of the investors.

“In a sense, we will not prescribe specific areas in a province or specific technology – we will just lay down in general that the capacity allotment will be for nuclear technology… it will depend on the investors which technology they will deploy,” the energy official stressed.

She similarly stated “we have criteria that we are going to propose for the regulatory framework. But as of now, it’s safer to say that we will advance once we have the law passed,” and on the offer of the targeted capacity, it can either be done through bidding or investors can also dangle well-justified unsolicited investment proposition to the DOE.

The energy department repeatedly indicated that the legal frameworks, regulations as well as upskilling and re-skilling of warranted workforce for nuclear power operations have to gain traction first before the country would take its nuclear renaissance investment pathway.

At this stage, the Philippines will need to hurdle at least 19 critical infrastructure concerns set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), if it really wants to get serious on its nuclear development track as part of the country’s strategy for energy-secure future.

The first step for the country will be to study which shall be the basis of its national position as to the nuclear option – and so far, that has already been addressed partly in the Duterte administration.

However, the warranted feasibility study is missing or had not been firmed up, hence, there is no specific document that the Marcos administration can now lean on for it to take the next steps in cementing the country’s nuclear ambitions.

On top of that, the other major deliverables will be those on nuclear safety, management, funding and financing, legislative framework, safeguards, firming up regulatory toolboxes, radiation protection, and reliability of the electrical grid.

The others would delve with human resources development, stakeholder involvement for social acceptance; concerns on siting and supporting facilities, environmental protection, emergency planning, security and physical protection, nuclear fuel cycle and  radioactive waste management; as well as industrial involvement and procurement.

And with the Fukushima tragedy of 2011, energy markets with nuclear power assets likewise stepped up on installing redundancy protection equipment on their facilities.

Nuclear energy has always been viewed  by the DOE as a long-term game plan for power generation; but it is also acknowledging the tough challenges it will need to overcome, including the perpetual predicament of elusive social acceptance.

Even with the revived interest on nuclear, the country is being cautioned that there is really no short cut when it comes to this technology rollout and that project implementations take long lead times of 15 years or more compared to other technologies.

Absent yet a firm outcome from a study, the first dilemma the government has to resolve is on which sector should take the investing initiative – if it would still be possible for the State to build a nuclear plant or if it would be more viable to leave the capital infusion call to the private sector players.

But while the country’s proposed foray into new round of nuclear investments is still one regime away, the  current administration is being advised to start planning now, including building up domestic skills into nuclear operations.