Marcos opens door for use of nuclear power in Philippines

THE BATAAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT in Morong, Bataan, a project of the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. but mothballed by his successor, President Corazon Aquino. Plans are afoot to revive the plant.

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – Even before he assumed the presidency, Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr had made known his inclination to turn to nuclear power as one solution to the country’s over-dependence on imported fossil fuels for its power needs.

He had even mentioned the possibility of powering up the long-mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), one of the projects of his late father and namesake. He again advocated going nuclear in his first State of the Nation Address, saying it was “time to re-examine our strategy towards building nuclear power plants.”

This past week, President Marcos appeared to still be mulling the idea of the Philippines having a nuclear plant or two, by discussing the possibility, first with French President Emmanuel Macron and then with US Vice President Kamala Harris.

Harris announced on Monday, Nov. 21, that the US and the Philippines were initiating talks on a “civil nuclear cooperation” deal.

Under the so-called 123 Agreement, there will be legal basis for US exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines.

A statement from the White House said the US would  be “deploying advance nuclear reactor technology as quickly as safety and security conditions permit to meet the Philippines dire baseload power needs.”

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Thailand late last week, Marcos said he discussed with Macron the possibility of forging a partnership on nuclear energy.

Marcos said he was confident such a partnership would be strong because “they (France) have up to 67 percent of their power production from nuclear energy.”

So the French “are very, very used to it,” Marcos added.

Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the Marcos administration was considering bringing in US-developed small modular reactors to the country.

Most opponents to nuclear power cite safety concerns as the main reason for the country to never operate nuclear plants.

While generally considered a safe and inexpensive source of power, previous meltdowns in other countries have exposed the dangers of nuclear energy.

The Fukushima disaster in Japan, the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, and the Three Mile Island accident in the US, are the three instances when radioactive material was emitted into the air as a result of meltdowns.

While the number of fatalities have been relatively small, the immediate areas where the meltdowns occurred have become uninhabitable.

As for the BNPP, it was learned that the facility was erected near a fault, which could have caused serious damage had a major earthquake occurred in the vicinity. Built by US company Westinghouse, the nuclear plant is theoretically still operable as it has been maintained by the government since it was mothballed in 1986.

Opponents of nuclear power say the Philippines is better off sticking to renewable power sources such as wind, solar, and even wave power.