Through the years, the Philippines consistently ranks among the top Asian countries with the highest electricity rates. In fact, it’s quite common to hear Filipino household owners jestingly share a terrifying tale about “Judith” (due date), who scrupulously haunts them with something completely unheard of in any horror story — their monthly electric bills. As a result, the government is tirelessly looking for alternative energy sources. At the moment, though, we’re still heavily dependent on imported fossil fuel for our electricity – which explains our costly bills.
To tell the truth, Filipino company Greenergy Development Corporation estimates that fossil fuels – such as coal, oil, and natural gas – generate roughly two-thirds of our overall electricity. Worse, energy like these emits staggering amounts of greenhouse gasses – which, consequently, intensify climate change. Given these dilemmas, we’re now trying to boil the ocean by reconsidering an old, yet highly controversial option: nuclear energy.
But, to be plain clear: No, we’re not yet ready for it.
When talking about nuclear power, Filipinos often picture the infamous Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). A closer inspection, though, shows that our messy nuclear program goes way back in the 1950s, when the Philippines founded the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission, shortly after it received its own nuclear fission reactor from the United States.
However, nuclear energy’s heyday in the country was in the 1970s, when the government took a huge step by constructing BNPP in Napot Point, Morong, Bataan – the first and only in Southeast Asia. At that time, the BNPP would have ideally helped curb our reliance on the tumultuous foreign oil market by generating 621 MW of electricity in Luzon.
Right after its completion in 1984, though, the government abruptly left BNPP untouched due to locational issues, poor safety protocols, and corruption allegations surrounding it.
Additionally, alarming news of foreign nuclear disasters finally convinced Filipinos to close the door on nuclear energy.
Look, are we going nuke?
But now, recent news seems to spell that the tables have turned. In 2018, the government invited experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct assessments on our nuclear energy adoption capabilities.
Just a year ago, it took another dauntless step when it agreed to cooperate with Russia in considering the likelihood of setting up nuclear power plants across the islands. That’s not all: A survey of the Department of Energy (DOE) even shows that eight out of every ten Filipinos actually back nuclear energy – a striking opposite of the prevailing attitude in the 1980s.
Given our flirtatious affair with nuclear power, the ASEAN Center for Energy counted the Philippines as one of the five nuclear energy frontrunners in the region.
Benefits of nuclear energy
Contrary to fossil fuels, though, nuclear energy doesn’t emit harmful gasses, which actually makes it a form of clean energy. Besides, it’d lessen our burden of importing fossil fuels, which equates to cheaper electricity prices. As a matter of fact, a functioning BNPP could provide a tenth of Luzon’s current electricity needs. These are just some of the reasons why DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi is enthusiastically reopening the doors to nuclear energy.
“It is high time we put the framework in place to bring nuclear power into the energy mix. We should learn the lessons from the past and catch up with the missed opportunities,” he said, in response to IAEA’s assessment report.
Despite these exciting developments, however, we still need to tackle several concerns: safety, regulation, cost, and past mistakes.
Senators are calling experts to seriously study the risks of setting up nuclear power plants. Additionally, they urge their fellow lawmakers to craft policies that’ll handle its regulation. (We sure don’t want another Chernobyl or Fukushima.)
Also, power plants are absolutely expensive. According to Russian firm Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation, repairing BNPP needs at least a whopping $3 billion budget. In an implementation assessment study of BNPP, author Cristobal Rabino said that we should first learn from our past mistakes before resuming our interest in nuclear energy. Even if we manage to fix these issues, however, the IAEA said that it’ll take around 10-15 years for aspiring users like the Philippines to receive accreditation before fully operating its nuclear program.
To sum it up, we’re still far away from reaping the benefits of nuclear energy but, be that as it may, it’s still a hopeful thing to rethink our past decisions in the face of current (and future) circumstances.—MF
Author: Cesar Ilao III
Cesar III is currently a BS Development Communication student from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. As a science communicator, he is passionate about sharing science to all Filipinos.