Nuclear energy: The first step of a thousand miles

Given the Duterte Administration’s thrust towards industrialization, the need for power has been greater than ever. This has prompted the Department of Energy (DOE) to adopt a “technology-agnostic” policy to fill the need for the increasing demand for energy.

The Philippines would have been the first Asian country to have harnessed nuclear energy. Since the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) has been shelved over the past few decades, the country’s nuclear power program is essentially back to square one.

During the recent 7th Annual Meeting of the Nuclear Energy Cooperation Sub-Sector Network (NEC-SSN) and Associated Meetings held as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, resource persons Undersecretary Jess Posadas of the DOE; Reina Matsuzawa, Security Instructor of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA); Harro Wittermans, Regional Coordinator for Southeast Asia, European Union Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Risk Mitigation Centre of Excellence Initiative (EU-CBRN-COE) and Atty. Manuel Luis Plofino, senior department manager for resource management service of the National Power Corp. were on hand to disclose what was discussed during the three-day summit.

Although the DOE is seriously considering the use of nuclear energy, Posadas said that the country is merely taking the first step in a journey of a thousand miles.

”In this meeting, we discussed the civilian nuclear energy program, the ASEAN plan of action with specific focus on building capacities on civilian nuclear energy and improve public understanding of nuclear energy,” Posadas said.

Matsuzawa highlighted the importance of promoting the enhancement of security for radioactive resources through regional and international cooperation and sharing of knowledge and experiences.

On the part of the EU-CBRN-COE, Wittermans said, “We are here to partner with you and to support you and we think there is a huge potential here.”

”The topics for the conference included safety, security and safeguards. Safety is the prevention of human error or accidents; security is to prevent malicious acts like theft, unlawful acquisition, transfer, and sabotage; and safeguards is to prevent the weaponization of what is supposed to be civilian energy use,” said Posadas.

Some 19 issues need to be addressed on the matter of nuclear energy, he said, pointing out that in addition to the three, there has to be a national position, wide stakeholder participation, a policy or legal framework, all related industries should be consulted, a regulatory framework should be in place, waste disposal, radiation protection, emergency planning, environment protection, financing, facility considerations, fuel, human resources, grid, procurement, and management.

”All of these 19 issues must be hurdled by the Philippine government from phase one, which is just to commit to the program. We will have to undertake the same 19 issues on consideration of bidding it out. On the third phase, you will have again the 19 issues to commission the plant,” said Posadas.

Nuclear energy is without a doubt more potent than conventional energy sources. Only 1 gram of uranium has the equivalent of 1,800,000 cubic cm. of oil or 3,000,000 grams of coal. Uranium is so energy-dense that it will last the longest among all energy reserves but it also takes the longest to break down, which is why the DOE is seriously studying all the implications given the inherent advantages of nuclear energy as a base load.

Ultimately, only the national government has the mandate to implement a nuclear program. It will be interesting to see where all these talks would lead as the country moves toward the “Golden Age of Industrialization”. By Albert-Anthony A. Abando (PNA)

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