First Gen’s Lopez apprehensive about nuclear-power proposals

by Lenie Lectura, 09 June 2015
from BusinessMirror

The Lopez-led First Gen Corp. expressed apprehension over the possibility of building a nuclear power plant in the country, citing excessive cost and safety issues.

First Gen officials present during the company’s recent annual meeting were asked by one of its shareholders if the company was open to it.

The officials said First Gen Chairman Fredrico Lopez has received many proposals for it to build a nuclear power plant, but cited the challenges that it would have to face.

First, he cited the cost. “The cost converting [the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)]… is even more expensive than building a new plant,” Lopez said.

Strong opposition from environmental groups and other sectors should also be seriously considered. “The issue also goes beyond if the Philippines can make nuclear power.  There is a very strong environmental sentiment against it so it’s not an easy thing go through, as well,” Lopez added.

Besides, the First Gen official pointed out, there are few resources to sustain the operation of a nuclear- power facility.

“There are so few nuclear plants built in the world. The number of students getting into that field is actually very little. For those in the field already, I think more than half of them are actually retiring,” Lopez said.

Apart from the construction cost, another important factor to be considered is the cost to actually operate a nuclear power plant.

“The chain of supply is only produced by few suppliers in the world. For instance, for the containment vessel, there are only two companies that do that. So, the cost will be affected. Many nuclear plants around the world always end up with cost overruns, 50 percent to 100 percent more than originally estimated,” Lopez explained.

Talks on BNPP’s revival started last year, when some sectors cited that the BNPP, which has a 600-megawatt capacity, could help ease the country’s power-supply problems.

The $2.3-billion nuclear power plant was built between 1976 and 1984 on a 357-hectare government reservation at Napot Point in Morong. The property where the BNPP is located is owned by the Department of Finance.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho L. Petilla had said that it will take $400 million to $600 million to revive the facility.

Petilla said the decision whether to revive the BNPP is not his call. Instead, he said, a nuclear regulatory body should be formed to study the proposal. “I don’t want to decide on it. We must have a nuclear regulatory body to decide on it because this is a very sensitive issue,” Petilla said.

Among others, the body will address the safety concerns raised by various sectors that are against the revival of the power facility. “No one will sell uranium to us if we have no nuclear body. This is a big task,” added the energy chief.

Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) has expressed interest to put up a 600-MW coal-fired power plant besides BNPP. Petilla said he is allowing this, provided that the proposed power facility should not be put up anywhere near the BNPP.

“As long as there is still no decision yet on the BNPP, it is okay for Kepco to put up a coal plant, but they have to locate it in an area where it would not adversely affect the BNPP,” Petilla said.

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