Foreign nuclear experts to study BNPP revival

By Lenie Lectura – November 16, 2016

from Business Mirror

The Department of Energy (DOE) said it may hire nuclear experts from other countries to assist the Philippines in its plan to put into commercial operation a mothballed nuclear power plant in Bataan.

“We lack in competence. We have to have a nuclear body to look after it. We need knowledgeable people,” Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi said after a coal business and policy forum in Makati City.

Cusi cited China, South Korea, Japan and Slovenia as among the countries that already signified interest to help the agency execute a plan to revive the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).

“We are inviting experts from different countries to submit up to January or February next year,” Cusi said, referring to the formal proposals.

Within the agency, he said a comprehensive study is already being undertaken. This study could be finished within the year, in hopes to keep the BNPP up and running in two to four years. The timeframe, Cusi said, is similar to putting up a coal plant.

“I think, by end of the year, we should know already what steps to do and everything. BNPP is already there. Whatever it is, we have to put a closure to the BNPP issue. We are allocating fund for maintenance. Later on, BNPP will be full of informal settlers,” said Cusi, explaining the reasons he personally prefers to revive the BNPP.

The government is spending roughly P40 million to P50 million in annual maintenance for the BNPP. Plans to revive the facility could cost $1 billion. A senator has questioned this, saying it is more practical to invest $1 billion in the exploration and development of untapped indigenous-energy sources rather than spend it in an asset that has been mothballed for many years.

“We are in consultation, coordination, having discussions,” Cusi said. He said it is normal to have differences in opinion, but assured Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian that crafting a nuclear policy is included in the agency’s plans.

Gatchalian, who is also the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, is opposed to the revival of the BNPP, in the absence of a clear and intensively researched national nuclear policy. Gatchalian said the DOE should first commission a comprehensive feasibility study on the prospects of utilizing nuclear power in the Philippines before pushing ahead with the construction or refurbishment of any nuclear plant, including the BNPP.

In the absence of compelling positive findings from the BNPP study, Gatchalian maintained that it would be more prudent to invest the $1 billion required to refurbish the plant in the exploration and development of untapped indigenous-energy sources, especially within the energy-rich waters of the West Philippine Sea.

“One billion dollars is a lot of money. We have to make sure that we are investing this substantial sum in cost-efficient energy ventures, which are guaranteed to make significant contributions to the long-term stability of our energy supply,” Gatchalian said.

Last week Cusi said he received President Duterte’s nod to proceed with plans to tap nuclear power, including reviving the BNPP.

The 620-megawatt (MW) BNPP is the country’s first and only attempt at nuclear-power development. It was supposed to be the first of two nuclear plants to be built in the northern province of Bataan. It was also the first nuclear-power plant in Southeast Asia, and the vaunted solution to the 1973 oil crisis that had adversely affected the global economy, including the Philippines.

Unfortunately, however, the project was mothballed in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. But then, clamor for the reopening of the BNPP was revived during the power crisis in the 1990s and the skyrocketing of oil prices in 2007.

During these periods, Cusi said the DOE actually came close to reconsidering nuclear power as a potential energy source for the country. But then the Fukushima nuclear-plant incident happened in 2011, creating global panic and concerns about the safety and integrity of nuclear plants.