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Political will needed for nuke

Vernon Velasco

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More than just switching on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), wholesale adoption of nuclear energy is needed to reverse the country’s energy deficits.

It will take a strong political will by the government leadership to do so, however.

“What we need is a fleet of nuclear plants comprising the bulk of our energy mix. That, and open-mindedness”, Alpas Pinas chief advocate and former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco said in an exclusive with Daily Tribune.

Cojuangco said it is an opportune time as the National Economic Development Authority projects that to ease electricity shortage by 2030, the country needs to generate 13 gigawatts of new energy capacity.

“Each gigawatt generated through coal or gas takes an import of source materials that cost approximately $600 million, or $7.8 billion worth of nonrenewable sources of energy per year. A firewood in the furnace,” Cojuangco said in Filipino. “With nuclear, its measly $20 million.”

Cojuangco is also disheartened that the Philippines is behind the adoption of nuclear energy. Two years from now, two 1200-MW nuclear powerplants (equivalent to four BNPP) will be operational in Bangladesh; Egypt, four 1200-MW plants or nine BNPP.

“In United Arab Emirates (UAE), they constructed Korea’s APR 1400 nuclear reactors. Now UAE is an oil-exporting country. Why nuclear? So that it can continue to export to the world its unclean and expensive products.”

Cojuangco pointed out the disconnect between facts and what is happening. There’s an ongoing crisis in electricity. We have a nuclear plant that could have been helping improve the economy, and yet it has been idle for 35 years.

Political will imperative

“It seems the President isn’t inclined to dictate the people things they have to accept. The Church and the government of Bataan are heavily invested in an anti-BNPP position, but the Congress should mandate the preservation of the plant because it is still good for the next 80 years,” Cojuangco said. “Perspectives can change especially when the people see how nuclear can improve the economy.”

Alpas Pinas is going across the breadth and length of the country in its rally to convince the provinces to invite investors and the national government to put up nuclear powerplants in their area in exchange for free electricity.

“That can be done because a 122-MW powerplant — 2 percent of its capacity can cover an entire province’s electricity needs. And when electricity is cheapest in your province, where do you think investors will go?”

Philippines being archipelagic means it’s an ideal place to erect a nuclear powerplant.

“All coastal provinces are ideal in that putting up a nuclear powerplant would not require erecting a cooling tower. It’s expensive. What will happen is that the bodies of water can be used as a coolant.”

This, not to mention that the more you put a nuclear plant near the load, the less transmission you need.

“For the local load, of course you have to transmit to Metro Manila because the bulk of the need is there. For example, if the generating cost is just half of the price you pay now, the value-added tax will also be just a fraction, as well as system loss and other charges. This means half of the price will be paid by consumers.

BNPP practical

Cojuangco estimated that the country will spend exactly $1.15 billion to commission BNPP, which is relatively cheaper compared to, say, constructing a brand-new coal plant at approximately $1 billion. The savings come from not having to import $600 million worth of source materials per gigawatt per year to sustain non-renewables.

The energy density of nuclear is magical. To illustrate: A coal plant needs 50 some 50,000-ton cargo shipments every 18 months. Whereas, BNPP merely needs an amount of source material that fits a medium-duty truck or a jeepney every year- and-a-half.

Cojuangco said wind and solar sources of energy, meanwhile, are also just a Trojan Horse of oil companies because these clean sources of energy are still backed up by gas due to the vagaries of the weather. In the Philippines, the solar capacity factor is at 15 percent; wind, 40 percent. It means gas or coal has to compensate 85 percent of the time for solar; 60 percent, wind.

“It will be a redundant and unnecessary expense. You’ll construct a solar or wind plant, you will also erect a gas plant. What if the sun is high or the wind is strong?”
Under suspended construction, the BNPP has yet to be commissioned, and technically brand-new. For a nuclear powerplant to be classified “old” is when the metal in the reactor vessels becomes brittle because of neutron radiation.

The BNPP has yet to experience a single neutron since it was built in 1976, and, Cojuangco said, 70 percent of operating nuclear powerplants in America are older than BNPP.

“It’s completely safe. The act of commissioning means they will review all equipment, ensure they’re all according to construction plans, then train people to a certain standard mandated by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the industry itself before it’s switched on.”

President Duterte issued last year an executive order asking the Department of Energy and other agencies to suggest necessary steps on how to possibly revive the nuclear powerplant.

“I salute the incumbent administration for its nuclear-energy vision, except that it lacks urgency. What happened was that there was a deluge of other problems that relegated nuclear to limbo. Then shortage happened, and the short-term solution was to sign a contract for coal and gas,” Cojuangco said.

“If only BNPP was opened upon the time they assumed position, if only we had a cheap abundant and clean energy, a post-Covid economic recovery could be spared the risk of stalling and plunging us into recession.”

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