DOE eyes final expert study on using BNPP


AS the country scrounges for suitable and affordable energy sources in pivoting away from pollutive ones like coal, the Department of Energy (DOE) will engage the services of an independent firm to help the agency assess once and for all the viability of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). 

DOE Undersecretary Sharon Garin told reporters on Tuesday that the agency wants to make sure that the almost four-decade-old nuclear plant is safe to operate should government decide later on to revive it. 

“We need to make sure if we want it opened, we have to make sure it’s safe. There’s been some studies already and assessments, but these are done by different companies or possible suppliers.

What we can possibly do is do a third party assessment and also for the departments that we have, or the bureaus that we have like PNRI [Philippine Nuclear Research Institute], the DOE can do the study also,” said Garin.

She made it clear, however, that, “We are not saying that Bataan is the only way to go. But we need to be very careful, we need to make sure the people are, they feel safe hence we need the regulatory and legislative legal framework,” she added.

The DOE, she said, may tap its 2023 budget to finance the conduct of a third-party assessment. “Hopefully, we can use the 2023 budget for that so we can proceed. Once we know that it is safe or not. If it is safe we can start deciding who will operate,” said Garin.

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 was identified as a solution to the 1973 oil crisis that had adversely affected the global economy, including the Philippines.

The project, however, was mothballed in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and amid allegations that it was overpriced. However, clamor for the reopening of the BNPP was revived during the power crisis in the 1990s and the skyrocketing oil prices in 2007.

During these periods, 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.

The Duterte administration has embraced nuclear energy with the issuance of Executive Order (EO) No. 164 entitled, “Adopting a National Position for a Nuclear Energy Program, and for other Purposes.” 

The EO states that nuclear power shall be tapped as a viable alternative to baseload power source along with alternative resources, to address the projected decline of coal-fired power plants, which come under increasing environmental opposition. The DOE has already banned new coal power projects in the country. 

Garin said the DOE has identified possible sites for small modular reactors (SMR). These could be in Palawan or Zamboanga and other areas in Mindanao. “The basic fundamental is what is safest as to geography, where there is no fault line. So, it will be in the west side. There are some areas that are not connected to the grid that can also be potential for small and modular as this will give them a more stable base load,” she said.

On Monday, the Philippines and the United States initially discussed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement that will provide the legal basis for US exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines.

The agreement is in line with the US’s “commitment” to working with the Philippines to “increase energy security and deploying advanced nuclear reactor technology as quickly as safety and security conditions permit to meet the Philippines’ dire baseload power needs.”