Gov’t mulls use of nuclear energy

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 Feb) – The Department of Energy (DOE) is crafting a “national position” on the use of nuclear energy in the country that will be submitted to President Rodrigo R. Duterte within the first quarter of 2018.

In an interview during the National Information Convention 2018 at the SMX Convention Center Davao on Monday, Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella cited the need to tap other sources of power to diversify the country’s power mix and attain energy resiliency.

An aerial view of a hydropower plant along Agus River, near scenic Maria Cristina Falls in Iligan City in this photo taken on March 4, 2014. MindaNews file photo

He said the DOE is conducting a study on nuclear technology, along with the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

IAEA is a169-country international organization that promotes “the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including weapons.”

Countries such as Russia, China, and US have expressed interest in nuclear power and are assisting the DOE in the study, Fuentebella said.

He said they need to conduct a study to come up with a comprehensive and science-based decision on the nuclear issue and to consider public acceptance of this technology.

He said the country needs to include nuclear power to its energy mix because “nagkakaroon tayo ng problema sa natural gas, nagkakaroon tayo ng problema sa planta” (we have problem in natural gas, we have problem in our plants).

“Meron ba tayong nuclear option (Do we have a nuclear option)?” he asked.

Once approved by Malacañang, the DOE will ask Congress to review the probability of nuclear use in the country and update Republic Act 5207, also known as the Atomic Energy Regulatory and Liability Act, which provides for the “licensing and regulation of atomic energy facilities and materials, establishing the rules on liability for nuclear damage,” he said.

“May legislations na kailangan gawin at dun madedetermine kung ano ang direction natin with our policy makers already onboard (There are some legislations that we need to do and, with our policy makers now onboard, we will know what our direction will be),” he said.

The official stressed that the current effort of the DOE is the first of the 19 steps set by international standards that government has to do before it may use nuclear power.

He added the process will take years and might even be tackled in the 18th Congress yet.

But once passed, he said, there are smaller modular nuclear technologies that can generate power from 1 megawatt to 8 MW.

A press release dated February 12 of DOE indicated that the agency’s recommendations to President will include the results of the energy planning studies under IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Projects; PHI 2011 Assessing the Development of a Nuclear Power Program in the Philippines for 2016 – 2017 and PHI 2016 003 Development of Nuclear Infrastructure in the Philippines, Phase II for 2018 – 2019.

But environment group Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) objected to this plan, saying it casts doubts on government’s capacity to run a nuclear plant, and suggested the use of better and safer renewable energy sources.

IDIS executive director Chinkie Pelino-Golle said in a text message that they hope the government will realize that nuclear energy is a dangerous option and an expensive source of power.

She said she fears the DOE would push with their plan “without assessing the disadvantages and consulting environmental experts.”

“We’ve been pushing a lot of projects for the sake of economic development but then they should consider the future and long-term effects as well as their capacity to manage it,” she said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)