06/18/2022, 16.25
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Manila to reboot the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

by Stefano Vecchia

President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. plans to confirm Duterte's executive order to include nuclear power in the country's energy mix. The first step could be repurposing a plant already built under Marcos Sr by US company Westinghouse in the early eighties not far from the capital, but which was never fuelled. In Southeast Asia, the Philippines’ energy costs are second only to Singapore’s.

Manila (AsiaNews) – In the Philippines, nuclear power has re-entered the debate on how to balance the country’s energy needs and protection of the environment, especially since it periodically faces supply issues and needs some better bases to produce energy and achieve self-reliance.

In a country of more than 7,100 islands, big and small, half of them uninhabited, energy production must take into account environmental conditions. In the settled parts of the archipelago, the main issue is the unreliable supply of energy, mostly provided by antiquated oil- and coal-powered plants.

On the one hand, environmental protection is subject to the vagaries of economic, political and strategic variables that no administration has fully evaluated so far; on the other hand, providing adequate energy supplies remains a priority but is a tough nut to crack.

Given the situation, nuclear power finds itself back in the spotlight, and not only in the Philippines. Elsewhere in Asia (Japan for example), large-scale environmental problems and strong opposition represent a major obstacle to the inclusion of nuclear power as an acceptable form of energy.

Against this backdrop, outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order that includes nuclear power in the country's energy mix, thus reigniting the debate over the desirability and feasibility of this kind of energy, a decision however backed by President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

The presidential order calls for the construction of a new nuclear power plant and breathe new life into the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), which is located about a hundred kilometres west of Manila.

Such a decision is driven by two considerations, namely the high cost of electricity in the Philippines (the second highest in Southeast Asia after Singapore) and dependency on fossil fuels, which currently meet 80 per cent of the country’s energy needs.

Nuclear power opponents counter that building and upgrading plants, buying the fuel, setting up maintenance facilities and managing the radioactive waste are highly costly.

Potential accidents are an additional factor to consider, as are the availability of suitable areas to build reactors and use them productively. Last but not least, political instability and terrorism must also be factored in.

Designed and built between 1976 and 1984 by a US company, Westinghouse, the 620 megawatts BNPP was never fuelled despite a US$ 2.2 billion price tag, which the country is still paying at the tune of US$ 40 to US$ 50 million a year.

Back in 1979 construction was even halted following reports of potential risks to public health and safety and the need to make substantial changes to the original blueprint.

For sceptics, support for a revived BNPP by both Duterte and Marcos Jr is more of a political ploy, part of the ongoing rehabilitation of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr, father of the new president who is scheduled to take office on 30 June.

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