Nuclear power: A go or no?

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(File photo) Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The country's energy supply remains unstable, especially in Luzon, according to the Department of Energy (DOE)

During the Senate Committee on Energy hearing on Wednesday, senators asked how to fill in the gap.

DOE officials admitted the country's back-up energy is dwindling and officials are warning of frequent power shortages in Luzon.

"Kaya tayo nagkukulang ngayon, nagkakaroon ng problema dahil nag sabay-sabay yung maintenance and yung kinukuha natin sa hydro, unfortunately there is rain, but at the wrong place," DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi explained.

[Translation: The reason why we our lacking power and having problems is because the maintenance (of power plants) is being done all at the same time. And on the power we get from hydro plants, unfortunately, we do get rain for this, but at the wrong place.]

He said they are looking to continue developing other sources of energy such as coal and renewable energy. The secretary is also raising the possibility of tapping nuclear power to beef up supply.

After nearly 40 years of being neglected, government officials and international energy experts are set to revisit the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) on Thursday to assess its status.

At the sidelines of the International Conference on the Prospect for Nuclear Power in the Asia-Pacific region on Tuesday, Cusi said a nuclear policy body will be created to study if it is indeed a feasible energy source for the Philippines.

Cusi is open and admitted he's for going nuclear.

Watch: The cost of power outages to businesses

He said it is the cheapest power source and the cost can stay the same for the next 50 to 100 years.

"The price of electricity being generated, nuclear worldwide, is the cheapest... even at the start it is the cheapest, even if your capital investment is big," Cusi explained.

But he adds, "Renewable will continue because part of the combination yan. We want to develop our geothermal, part of the renewable, the solar will continue."

Ancient and expensive

The construction of the BNPP began in 1976 and was 98% complete in 1984.

It is the first plant to be built in South East Asia.

It took 10 years to build but is now on "preservation mode" since 1986. The project was mothballed because of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and Fukushima nuclear plant incident in 2011.

Until now, the government continues to pay ₱40 million to ₱50 million a year to maintain it.

The BNPP has a power capacity of 623 megawatts. Authorities said, it is well protected against tidal waves and tsunamis.

The last study conducted on reviving the BNPP was in 2009. The Korea Power Electric Corporation (KEPCO) performed a feasibility study on the plant from February to April 2009.

It found that the cost of rehabilitating the BNPP will amount to about US$1 billion. This is the same amount Cusi has quoted when asked on rough estimates.

Other findings are that 24% of about 6,000 plant systems and equipment will need to be replaced. With that, the BNPP can be rehabilitated successfully.

Mikhail Chudakov, the head of the Department of Nuclear Energy of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said, "The station cannot stay like it was 40 years ago. We have to estimate. A nuclear power plant cannot stay like it was under construction. You need upgrades... safety, every year."

IAEA officials said they are ready to make the necessary assessments if the country will invite them. But they clarify, it is a sovereign decision and they are not in the country to influence its choices.

Cautious on reopening BNPP

During the Senate hearing on Wednesday, Senators JV Ejercito and Dick Gordon are backing the proposal to look into nuclear power.

But Energy Committee Chair Win Gatchalian is not as supportive of reviving the power plant.

"'Yung BNPP para sa akin ay luma na at tingin ko eh mas magastos pa para i-revive 'to. Pangalawa, meron ba tayong kakayahan dahil ang nuclear power at nuclear power plant ay napaka-komplikadong patakbuhin yan so meron ba tayong kakayahan para i-manage 'tong ganitong complicated plan?" Gatchalian said.

[Translation: In my opinion, the BNPP is old and expensive for it to be revived. Second, do we have the capability to run a nuclear power plant? Because it is very complicated to run one. Do we have the capability to manage a complicated plan like this?]

Gatchalian said it's a policy question and will have to be discussed by both Congress and the Executive department especially if it will be run by government.

Instead, Gatchalian suggested further developing Liquefied Natural Gas and other renewable energy sources. Renewable energy currently has a small share in the national energy mix.

Gatchalian explained, "'Yung ating natural gas, Liquified Natural Gas, 'yung LNG dahil ang Malampaya paubos na in 10 years, wala na tayong Malampaya and Malampaya covers 20 to 30 percent of the requirements ng buong bansa."

[Translation: (We should take a look into) Liquified Natural Gas or LNG because the Malampaya's reserves will be finished in 10 years and we won't have it anymore. Malampaya covers 20 to 30 percent of the country's (energy) requirements.]

The Malampaya gas field is expected to dry up by about 2024.

The oil-rich Reed Bank is another option but there's a moratorium on oil exploration in the area because of the South China Sea dispute.

On Tuesday, Greenpeace Philippines voiced their opposition on the government's plan to shift to nuclear power.

Ben Muni, Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaigner, called it an "expensive distraction" and argues that the proposed $1-billion can instead be invested into renewable energy, lessening the hazards of nuclear energy.

Muni exclaimed, "I doubt if the cost will stay the same in the next 15 to 20 years. Uranium, which is the fuel source (of nuclear power plants), it's only found in very few countries. We will be at the mercy of market forces."

"How do we get rid of the nuclear waste? One of the hazards identified, it's located near a fault line, near the Mount Samat area," Muni added.