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Crafting a national nuclear program

Business Mirror

ON Christmas day, the Press and Public Affairs Bureau of the House of Representatives posted online a news release saying the House of Representatives, before its holiday break, has approved on second reading House Bill 8733, or the proposed 'Comprehensive Nuclear Regulation Act,' which seeks to establish a comprehensive nuclear regulatory framework and create the Philippine Nuclear Regulatory Commission (PNRC).

The bill's proponents said the PNRC will be an independent nuclear regulatory body focused on the control of peaceful uses and application of nuclear energy. The sponsors are House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Deputy Majority Leader Ron Salo (Party-list, Kabayan), Reps. Francis Gerald Abaya (First District, Cavite), Maximo Rodriguez Jr. (Second District, Cagayan de Oro City), Gary Alejano, (Party-list, Magdalo), Divina Grace Yu (First District, Zamboanga del Sur), Erico Aristotle Aumentado (Second District, Bohol), Seth Frederick Jalosjos (First District, Zamboanga del Norte), and Joey Sarte Salceda (Second District, Albay).

Long overdue, the bill will help shape a national nuclear program to help us address our problem of looking for cheap and reliable alternative energy sources. For the longest time, Filipinos have been complaining about the high cost of electricity. As of January 2018, the country's average electricity price for residential customers is the second highest in Asia, according to a Perth-based consulting firm that specializes in providing power market advisory services in the Asia-Pacific region (see'Micro, small firms still unable to tap loans from banks' in BusinessMirror, December 27, 2018). The top 5 countries with the highest power rates surveyed in Asia are Japan (P12.31 per kWh); Philippines (P8.96 per kWh); Singapore (P8.83 per kWh; Hong Kong (P6.53 per kWh); and Thailand (P6.23 per kWh).

If both houses of Congress can get their act together and succeed in crafting a viable national nuclear program, they can help liberate millions of Filipino households from the grip of expensive electricity. For example, we have a $2-billion white elephant that can be turned into an asset: The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is a fully functional but nonoperating nuclear power installation. It was built by the late President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and was supposed to be operated in 1985. However, the People Power revolution drove Marcos out and the Aquino administration shelved the nuclear program.

The Duterte administration has all the information it needs to decide whether to revive the mothballed BNPP. Reports said the government will have to spend $1 billion to make it operational. After 40 years of dormancy, the BNPP is still safe to use as it can withstand an intensity 8 earthquake, according to the National Power Corp. The shell of the nuclear plant was made from imported cement and Bethlehem steel, the same brand used to put up the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building.

Proponents said the BNPP must be revived if we want cheaper electricity. While it is true that BNPP's capacity is only around 620 megawatts, a far cry from the 1,200-megawatt coal-fired Sual Power Station in Pangasinan, the nuke plant offers huge savings. That's because 1 gram of uranium, which costs about 6 cents, matches the power that can be generated by 1 ton of coal or 1,800 liters of oil.

The Duterte administration, like past administrations, has the choice to leave the BNPP idle-and let taxpayers continuously shoulder around P50 million annually for its maintenance-or make it operational so it can contribute to the advancement of our national interest.


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