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Gov’t serious on nuclear power: Cusi

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SECRETARY Alfonso Cusi (in white polo) during an inspection of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant early in the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. W. Commons

The Philippine government is not taking the possible use of nuclear energy with a cavalier attitude, but is looking at it at all angles, including its safety and environmental impact, if any.

Secretary Alfonso Cusi of the Department of Energy (DoE) made this assurance before an international forum over concerns raised about the Philippines’ seeming pivot towards the use of viable sources of energy.

Cusi said the emphasis is being given by the DoE, as the lead government on energy matters, on achieving long-term power security and sufficiency.

“Given that the idea of harnessing nuclear power for our energy needs is a highly politicized issue in our country, we have been working to ensure that public and stakeholder acceptance is fully and properly addressed,” Cusi said.

The DoE chief made the remark before the participants of the Nuclear Business Platform webinar, with the theme: “NBP Conversations, Philippine Nuclear Market Update.”

Cusi said there is already a comprehensive and integrated communication plan, which will be intensified, as the government goes full speed on its Nuclear Energy Program (NEP).

President Duterte has given the green light for the program through the issuance of Executive Order 116, which created a NEP inter-agency committee headed by the DoE.

The committee’s primary mandate is to study the possibility of tapping nuclear power and include it in the country’s energy mix.

During the NBP forum, Secretary Cusi expressed optimism that Filipinos have become more open to the idea of using nuclear energy for power generation, as reflected in a Social Weather Station (SWS) survey the DOE commissioned last year.

He noted that the survey respondents are already aware that nuclear energy possesses both benefits and risks, adding that 78 percent of the respondents are willing to learn more about nuclear energy.

That survey also showed a 79 percent approval rating on the possible use or rehabilitation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and a 65% approval rating on building a new nuclear power plant.

“With such a positive turnout, I feel that now is (the) time for intensified and informed public discussions on nuclear energy and its potential role in the Philippine energy security agenda,” Secretary Cusi said.

Cusi noted that 70% of the respondents wanting to have government funds to finance the construction of a nuclear power plant is also a good indicator of the acceptability of nuclear energy.

“I believe that the Philippines stands to gain a lot from the safe introduction of nuclear power into our energy mix. Since I assumed my post as Energy Secretary, I have been looking into the merits of nuclear power utilization, and I believe that the time is ripe for us to embark on a full national nuclear energy program,” he stressed.

Cusi cited the following why he is supporting the use of nuclear energy:

• Nuclear power could help ensure a country’s energy security. The energy supplied by a nuclear power plant is considerably more secure as compared with plants that are powered by fossil fuels, which require constant feeds of coal or gas. Additionally, in most reactors, fuel assemblies are used for an average of three years. Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, operate with high capacity factors, allowing them to provide a constant and more reliable supply of power.

• Given the collective desire to build a better and cleaner world for the coming generations, nuclear power appears to be the most viable alternative to baseload power produced by coal.

• There is a correlation between nuclear power utilization and developed economies. The United States has 98 nuclear power plants while France has 58. Japan, on the other hand, has 39; China has 45 nuclear plants; while the United Kingdom and South Korea have 15 and 24, respectively.

He noted that the Philippine nuclear story started almost at the same time as that of South Korea’s.

The Philippines was one of the first Southeast Asian countries to embark on a nuclear power program with the creation of the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) in 1958.

Two decades later after the Commission’s establishment, the country became host to Southeast Asia’s only nuclear power plant in the 1980s — the 621-megawatt Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

“Unfortunately for us, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was mothballed and was never commissioned and operated. In fact, I often say that the Philippine economic landscape would be very much different today had the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant been operational,” he said.

Prior to EO 116, Secretary Cusi said the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) already projects the inclusion of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix by 2027.

With the evolution of Small Modular Reactors that are suitable for the off-grid or island areas of the Philippines, he said that the possibility of establishing a modular power plant in the country might come sooner.

“This would depend on the passage of necessary legislative policies on nuclear power, which are among the bills that have been certified as urgent, and must be passed by the present Congress,” he pointed out.

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