Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on 1 October ordered energy authorities to study the possible use of the mothballed Bataan nuclear power plant and to consult the concerned communities.
The Philippines spent $2.3 billion on a 621MWe Westinghouse pressurised water reactor at Bataan, which was completed in 1984 but was never fuelled or commissioned.
Previous discussions on reviving the Bataan plant led to nothing. However, it is expected to be a more serious part of any nuclear discussion this time. Filipino officials have also been talking with Rosatom about a feasibility study on small modular reactors (SMRs).
Rosatom, along with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co, in 2017 submitted plans to bring Bataan online, with costs ranging from $1 billion to more than $3 billion. Rosatom signed a Memorandum of Intent on cooperation on SMRs with the Philippines Department of Energy in October 2019.
Nuclear infrastructure in the Philippines
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) concluded an eight-day mission to the Philippines in December 2018.
The INIR review team was hosted by the Philippines’ Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organisation (NEPIO), established by the Department of Energy in 2016.
The team reviewed the status of nuclear infrastructure development using criteria from Phase 1 of the IAEA's Milestones Approach, which provides detailed guidance across three phases of development. The end of Phase 1 marks the readiness of a country to make a knowledgeable commitment to a nuclear power programme.
The INIR team noted that the NEPIO has completed several studies and that draft legislation addressing nuclear safety, security, and safeguards, and that set up of an independent nuclear regulatory body was under development. It also acknowledge that the Philippines "recognises the importance of open and transparent public communication," as well as the need to include a broader range of stakeholders as it prepares to introduce nuclear power.
Importance of public and transparent communication
The President issued the latest directive following a meeting with Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco, according to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
Duterte recognised that any decision on whether or not to exploit nuclear power should emanate from the people, not just from the government, Roque said
In July, the President issued Executive Order No 116 creating an inter-agency committee to evaluate and assess the need and viability of introducing nuclear power into the energy mix. The Nuclear Energy Programme Inter-Agency Committee, to be chaired by the Department of Energy, must take into consideration the economic, security, and environmental implications as well as engagement of the public and the relevant stakeholders, according to the President. The committee was also directed to review the existing legal framework and study the viability of nuclear energy.
On 2 October, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, welcomed Duterte’s directive. He told GMANewsTV it bolstered his belief that reviving the Bataan plant needs careful and serious study of the risks associated with managing nuclear power plants.