Power industry players frown at nuclear option

by Myrna Velasco – October 18, 2016

from Manila Bulletin

Department of Energy (DOE) is pushing the envelope when it comes to integrating nuclear into the country’s technology options in the shifting energy mix, but power industry players are giving it the cold shoulder.

Even as debates on the proposed energy mix is intensifying, nuclear appeared to still be the elephant in the room for many of the deep-pocketed power investors in the country, unless policy and regulatory frameworks on this technology option are first rewired, rewritten and cast on clear directions.

Aboitiz Power Corporation President Antonio R. Moraza simply noted that the DOE has “more important matters to focus on” especially when it comes to needed policy improvements in the sector.

The company is not setting its sight on nuclear power given the other more pressing issues of the sector, primarily the need to widen the base of energy demand in the country by improving on investment policies and ease the deemed uncertainties triggered by some government pronouncements.

First Gen Corporation President Francis Giles B. Puno also set on record that they are “not looking at nuclear” in their forward investment plans.

For DOE to propel its nuclear ambition into the country’s energy mix, its first task is to convince not just the public and politicians, but primarily the investors to place their bet on it.

For PHINMA Energy Corporation President Francisco L. Viray, he opined that the DOE must first assess how nuclear would fare in a market-driven environment as it may not be a viable and competitive option for project sponsors and eventually for the Filipino consumers.

He said nuclear could have been ideal in a vertically integrated power utility set-up such as with the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) under the tutelage then of state-run National Power Corporation (NPC).  But with the structural changes in the power industry, the investment and market dynamics also changed dramatically and that needs to be re-studied.

On public acceptance of the technology owing to the recent nuclear scare out of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the DOE has yet to set the tone and parameters as well as boundaries of discussion when it comes to assuring safety and security features of the technology.

Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Sherwin Gatchalian has already indicated that he will file a measure that will support DOE’s bid to study the nuclear option – one that is anchored more on positioning it as a long-term technology bid for the country rather than the plan to repower the mothballed BNPP.

Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella argued that the DOE’s push on the technology is predicated upon goals to eventually reverse the heightened carbon footprints of the country due to the massive scale of coal plant developments in recent years until the present.

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi similarly noted that “the DOE is evaluating the use of nuclear energy and its possible contribution to the energy mix.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that “initial steps have to be made first, such as the establishment of a Nuclear Energy Program Implementation Organization (NEPIO), creation of a National Policy and Program on Nuclear Energy and even extensive public consultations to identify the public’s concerns or reservation on nuclear energy utilization.”