By Myrna M. Velasco
Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi was the lone minister who made a pitch for nuclear option for the Southeast Asian region in this week’s 36th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting (AMEM) in Singapore.
“I was the only one who raised it, because other countries like Singapore are not really up for it,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the AMEM event in the city-state.
Even Vietnam, which recently backpedaled on its nuclear ambition, according to Cusi, had not been vocal on its position on the technology.
He emphasized that the Philippines still stood its ground on it “because my pitch was: we should study it because of the distinct vulnerability we are dealing with in terms of energy security in our country.”
Cusi admitted though that specific government action on the nuclear renaissance pathway of the country has not advanced yet because the national policy is still awaiting imprimatur from the Office of the President.
Nevertheless, he considers the recent statement of support from Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III “a boost” to the nuclear option, with him stressing that this is an affirmation to the Department of Energy’s effort in pushing for nuclear as a long-term energy option for the country.
“We need to have a balanced mix, nuclear is still a better option aside from coal,” he indicated; adding that since Dominguez is the Duterte administration’s economic cluster head, this could be a much needed stimulus to the country’s energy security goals.
Beyond the niggling puzzle as to the fate of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), the DOE casts a nuclear power development track to help satiate the country’s energy needs onward to year 2040.
The Philippines is fiercely being cautioned though on its proposed fresh plunge into nuclear power development – as it may need to re-take “baby steps” on this investment path.
Aside from the very grueling facet of securing “community approval” on nuclear project location, the country has array of concerns yet to address: including harnessing expertise on nuclear technology deployment; crafting of enabling laws as well as policies and regulations and the creation of government agencies to man them – which altogether may require at least 15-year gestation period.
As had already been raised by experts, relying solely on the knowledge and competence of foreign experts would still be a “dangerous play” for countries intending to take a plunge into nuclear power in their energy mix agenda.
It has been emphasized that foreign experts could abandon a country even at the middle of its nuclear development activity, and when that happens, multitudes of problem could arise. Hence, it is widely recommended that the skills and talents of those to be deployed in nuclear power workforce have to be nurtured at home base.
When it comes to regulation, it is also critically needed that the designated officials governing and regulating the sector have deep knowledge of nuclear operations; and they should not just be the usual politically affiliated appointees of any current Malacañang occupant.