The project was visionary since nuclear energy during the ‘70s was still on the distant horizon of most countries in Asia.
The mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant should have been among the pioneers in the region and its enormity would have been nothing to scoff at since the initial proposal would have resulted in a generating capacity of 1,200 megawatts.
At 1,200 megawatts of electricity, it would have been producing the same output of power as the country’s biggest power plant which is Ilijan in Batangas.
Political noises intervened as anti-development groups raised the specter of the Three Mile Island accident in which the reactor of the nuclear facility in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown in 1979.
BNPP’s construction began in 1976 but the US incident led to a halt in its construction.
Later, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in the north of the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union was used by BNPP’s oppositors to prevent it from operating.
Despite never having operated commercially, the plant has remained intact, including the nuclear reactor, and the government continues to maintain it, as it is hoped that someday the technology would have evolved to make its use safer.
The technology has reached the point that it can be used safely but the advancement has also resulted in the introduction of more compact generating units that can be mobile, or the so-called small modular reactors.
These SMRs can be deployed to remote areas which are still beyond the reach of the electricity grid.
Had the BNPP started operating, the Philippines would have been among the trailblazers in nuclear power generation in Asia but it ended up at the tail end of the development in the technology as a result of the partisan innuendoes.
The government completed paying off its loan obligations for the $2.2 billion plant in April 2007, more than 30 years after construction began.
The project was visionary since nuclear energy during the ‘70s was still on the distant horizon of most countries in Asia. Western nations then were also undertaking measures towards nuclear technology for power generation.
It is, thus, poetic justice that the likely partner of the country in rebooting the use of nuclear technology to generate power would be the United States.
In a Makati Business Club forum, US Ambassador Mary Kay Carlson said Washington was moving forward with talks that would unlock US assistance for the Philippines’ transition to nuclear energy.
Before the MBC, Carlson said the compact would need the concurrence of Capitol Hill through the “123 agreement” to open the door for the export of US nuclear technology to the Philippines.
Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act requires the US Congress to vote for the request of a foreign country to use nuclear technology.
The Philippines as a country with access to American nuclear technology under US law would also entitle it to scientific research and safeguards provisions.
The law requires legislative consent on the sharing of US technology as an assurance that this will be employed for “peaceful use,” and not intended to lead to a nuclear weapons program.
Carlson said the initial discussions between the Philippines and the US on the nuclear shift will happen in the coming weeks.
Nonetheless, the talks will merely set the guidelines for the 123 agreement negotiations.
The country’s journey to realize the nuclear option for energy security will be long which in some estimates is not expected to happen until the end of the decade or around 2030.
Time has changed but the critics remain adamantly ancient in their arguments since they harbor a political agenda.
With the demand for electricity rising along with the leaping economic performance, intelligent discourse is needed on nuclear technology and it should happen fast.
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