Experts caution PH plan on nuclear power revival

By Myrna M. Velasco – September 20, 2019, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

ABU DHABI/Manila – The Philippines hinted about reviving its nuclear power development ambition – either through the repowering of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), construction of new facilities or the deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs), but cautionary policy and regulatory approaches as well as investment strategies are being offered by experts.

Department of Energy (DOE) logo

Department of Energy (DOE) logo

In the development blueprint set out by the Department of Energy (DOE), it is targeting a “new nuclear plant build” by year 2022, but it has not clearly stated if these would just be the SMRs or the start of the larger scale deployment of nuclear reactors.

In a recent presentation at the Powertrends 2019 though, DOE Director Melita V. Obillo indicated that before the country could take its renewed plunge into nuclear power, key action points it will need to sort out will be the policy and regulatory frameworks of the sector.

She similarly asserted that the country would need to heed the advice and caution of other power markets that had already tugged their way into nuclear power facility developments.

From the standpoint of safety as well as operations, global experts noted that the wave of digitalization swamping the global energy sector is seen as key to reinforcing the overall performance of nuclear power and for it to become a major component in achieving decarbonization of the global energy sector.

In a study unveiled by the World Energy Council (WEC) in Abu Dhabi that touches on nuclear energy growth scenarios, it was stipulated that “looking into the future, digitalization has the potential to improve the nuclear industry’s performance and supporting it to allow better informed decisions on new build and lifetime extension.”

The WEC, which is an organization of global energy markets, emphasized that “the pace of learning curve across the nuclear sector can be increased through international cooperation on harmonization of regulatory processes,” such as “allowing reactor designs to be deployed globally with minimal design alternations.”

On the nuclear investment space, the WEC study propounded that this technology option could traverse three different pathways.

Under a “modern jazz scenario,” experts at the WEC exhibited that nuclear could latch onto a “digitally disrupted, innovative and globally market driven world.”
On that premise, it was explained that “the nuclear industry has the potential to reinvent itself – from selling units to providing services – and to remain as energy source of choice as some of the existing nuclear countries and emerging economies expand their nuclear fleets.”

The nuclear option, the WEC pointed out, could likewise take “the unfinished symphony pathway” wherein “more coordinated and sustainable economic growth models emerge with a global aspiration to a low carbon future. Within that particular scenario, it has been emphasized that nuclear energy is “widely accepted as part of a reliable and affordable response to the climate change emergency.”

The other pathway envisioned for nuclear is the “hard rock” route, in which the main focus areas are “new construction in emerging markets and lifetime extension initiatives in developed economies.”

Like many of the countries in the world, the Philippines is also sorting out its nuclear resurgence ambition – but it cannot firmly decide yet if it will just repower its idled BNPP facility or will just refocus attention on new builds.

Taking from the prescription of global energy leaders, it has been noted that the future of nuclear energy could be confronted with critical challenges and opportunities, including the need for faster learning on the industry’s intricacies, linking renewables and nuclear as well as reinforcing energy leadership for the sector through the long term.