Philippines reconsiders nuclear option

7 September 2016

The Philippines is considering the possibility of operating its only NPP, a Westinghouse pressurised water reactor which was completed more than 20 years ago at a cost of more than $2bn, but never used.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said on 30 August that reviving the mothballed 620MWe plant in Bataan province, northwest of Manila, would need investment of $1bn.

"We have to weigh all our options, with emphasis not just on meeting capacity requirements, but sustainability and environmental obligations as well," Cusi said, speaking at the opening of a three-day international conference on nuclear power in Manila. Cusi is going to reactivate a government task force set up in 2007 to study nuclear power as an alternative to imported fuel oil and coal, which currently provide more than half of the the Philippines energy mix.

He said technical experts, including those from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have been invited to help to identify the next steps and come up with a"well-informed" decision. He did not specify a timetable for the study, but expects the move to reignite protests against the project, especially by environmentalists and the Catholic Church on the grounds of safety and cost.

The late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos order the plant built in 1976 in response to rising energy prices and it was finished in 1984. Work was halted in 1985 when a number of contractual disputes arose between the Philippine government and Westinghouse. The plant was subsequently declared unsafe because it sits on a major earthquake fault line and lies near the Pinatubo volcano, which was dormant at that time. Pinatubo's 1991 eruption had no effect on the Bataan plant, 70km away, but the project was finally mothballed in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The National Power Corporation (Napocor) has been maintaining the mothballed facility at an annual cost of PHP27m ($580,000).

A decade ago Manila looked into reopening the plant but the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident renewed concerns about safety. In 2008 the IAEA sent a team of experts to the Bataan plant to evaluate the state of the unit,

The Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) 2016-2030 which is currently being formulated, will be finalized in September and will be subjected to a nationwide consultation in October, Cusi said. Current energy sources, particularly oil and natural gas, have a limited life, he pointed out. “Unfortunately we don’t want coal. Many also oppose nuclear. But we have needs to meet,” he noted.

To meet the required additional capacity, he said, the Philippines needs to build 6,086MWe, of which 5,094MWe should be baseload and 992MWe for merit and peaking. “We are doing this to guide the investors; we must have a very strong foundation for our power capacity,” he added.



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