Cabinet approval eyed on nuclear power option for PH energy mix

By Myrna M. Velasco – August 25, 2019, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

The Department of Energy (DOE) will secure Cabinet approval on the planned fresh foray into nuclear power development and for this option to become part of the country’s long-term energy mix.

Department of Energy (DOE) logo

Department of Energy (DOE) logo

Energy Undersecretary Donato D. Marcos qualified though that this will be lodged to the Cabinet after the completion of an ‘independent third party survey’ by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) – that will then gauge public pulse on nuclear power as an option.

Marcos noted the outcome of the SWS survey will be the government’s guiding path in crafting final policies for nuclear power builds into the future.

“The perception survey will be nationwide and it will cover thousands of respondents,” Marcos said, adding that the inputs to this survey will eventually help the department win social acceptance for nuclear, which had always been a contentious topic for many Filipinos through the years.

Following the conclusion of the survey, the energy official indicated that the result will first be presented to the Cabinet Assistance System (CAS) in Malacanang; then to the Cabinet level before a final presentation to President Rodrigo Duterte.

It has to be noted that the DOE had pushed for the creation of an expanded inter-agency nuclear power development body to be headed by the Office of the President, especially on the sphere of regulation.

That had been one of the main thrusts of the Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organization (NEPIO) which shall be broadened in scope and likely reinforced by an Executive Order (EO) targeted to be issued by Malacanang.

Marcos noted that they would want NEPIO expanded into Commission under the direct supervision of the Office of the President. The proposed EO has been submitted to the President, but Malacanang has yet to act on it. “We would want the regulatory framework to be with the Office of the President, so it sets a stronger thrust for the country’s nuclear power aspirations,” he said.

The energy department is reviving nuclear as an option on its ‘energy mix toolbox’ and for this to become part of the country’s route into attaining long-time elusive goal of cheaper electricity tariffs.

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi reiterated that his department is “seeking innovative solutions to make power rates in the Philippines go down,” and the nuclear power track is one of the options they have been recurrently exploring.

Since his first year in office, Cusi was a clear advocate of nuclear technology option – but concretizing plans had been the cycle path he has been struggling with.

At the same time, many investors in the Philippine power industry frowned upon the idea of having nuclear as an addition to the mix; for key reasons like: it is a difficult play on social acceptance; and the upfront cost on nuclear technology installation will be extremely expensive – a dilemma that even developed countries had a tough time dealing with.

It must be recalled that the energy department also pressed for the revival of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), but after the conclusion of a study on that by parties led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the DOE had turned tightlipped on future plans for the idled facility.

Cusi, for now, is just sounding off that the department is targeting to integrate nuclear as part of the country’s future energy mix – and the terrain of development will lean on new builds.

“We adopted a technology-neutral approach to break barriers against the attainment of our energy goals,” the DOE chief stressed, emphasizing that with insights from experts, he might be able “to fill some gaps and broaden our perspectives on nuclear power even further.”