[OPINION] Bataan nuclear power plant: Open or close sesame?

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“Sorry, Professor Winnie, but I disagree with your position. We should not rehabilitate the Bataan nuclear power plant.’

(Disclaimer: The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this commentary belong solely to the author, and not to any organization with which the author is affiliated.)

Of the various energy sources on Earth, nuclear energy is the most controversial. This reputation is the result of different nuclear accidents that have happened in the past – the Three Mile Island accident (1979), the Chernobyl disaster (1986) and the Fukushima Daiichi disaster (2011). Despite these horrific events, several countries harness nuclear power primarily for electricity and see it as an essential part of a net-zero emissions future. However, security is the major issue of today’s society for this source of energy.

A few weeks ago, Professor Winnie Monsod wrote an opinion piece on the rehabilitation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). The esteemed economics professor opined in her article that considering the benefits the country could derive from it, it is time for the government to rehabilitate and activate the BNPP, tutal bayad na rin naman. Professor Winnie highlighted key details about nuclear power which led to his stance on the matter. Here are some details I’d like to focus on:

  1. A 2019 survey cited in the recently signed Executive Order No. 164 showed that 8 out of 10 Filipinos approve of BNPP’s rehabilitation.
  2. The rehabilitation of the BNPP is much cheaper than the construction of a new nuclear power plant.
  3. Electricity produced from nuclear energy is cheaper than electricity produced from coal or oil.
  4. Generating nuclear electricity emits less carbon than electricity from solar sources.
  5. Nuclear power is the safest way to generate reliable electricity.

Sorry, Professor Winnie, but I disagree with your position. We should not rehabilitate the Bataan nuclear power plant. Allow me to justify my position and clarify some points regarding nuclear energy.

First, the survey cited in EO 164 shows that some Filipinos are less and less opposed to nuclear energy. However, a 2018 Pulse Asia survey showed that 9 out of 10 Filipinos prefer to use more renewable energy sources for our electricity. This 2018 survey reveals that more Filipinos want renewable energy in the country’s energy mix, as it should. Figure 1 shows that fossil fuels have made up more than half of the country’s energy supply since 1994. As a result, the vox populi was ignored, as was a 2015 Energy Ministry circular prescribing a minimum share of 30% renewable energy in the total electricity production capacity. from the country.

Figure 1. Total primary energy supply (in kTOE) of the Philippines from 1990 to 2020 (DOE, 2020;)

Second, according to a 2019 assessment by a South Korean firm, the BNPP is still in good condition but some of its components require replacement. The overall rehabilitation of the facility could cost around $1bn (£52bn) and could take four to five years. Despite the positive assessment, the rehabilitation of BNPP cannot proceed immediately because the government cannot own a power generation facility such as a nuclear power plant. Article 6 of the two-decade-old Electric Power Industry Reform Law No. 9136 privatizes the country’s generation sector. For rehabilitation plans to run smoothly, modifications to the EPIRA must be developed before anything else.

[OPINION]    Dismantling of BNPP and storage of the radioactive dung of the nuclear dragon

Third, one of the best ways to compare the cost of electricity from different energy sources is to use their Levelized Costs of Electricity (LCOE). The LCOE is the estimated cost per energy generated over the lifetime of a power plant. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), while it is true that the LCOE of nuclear is cheaper than that of coal, the LCOE of renewables such as solar, onshore wind and hydro run-of-river is less expensive than nuclear. .

Figure 2. Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of different energy sources (IEA, 2020)

Fourth, the term “carbon emissions” in this aspect should be clarified to avoid confusion. The production of electricity from solar and nuclear energy sources does not emit greenhouse gases, but other processes involved in this production (for example the extraction of raw materials, the construction of power plants ) do. These cumulative emissions are called life cycle greenhouse gas emissions and are usually expressed in terms of g CO2eq per kWh of electricity produced. The harmonized data presented in Figure 3 shows that although nuclear power has a lower average lifecycle GHG emissions, it is still higher than that of wind power.

picture 3. Greenhouse gas emissions from the life cycle of nuclear, solar photovoltaic and wind energy (IPCC, 2014)

Finally, the safety of a power plant is a general term but an important factor to consider. Safety could mean that of workers (mortality rate) and residents living near the facility (health impacts). The mortality rate of solar, wind and hydroelectric power per TWh of electricity produced is lower than that of nuclear power. On the other hand, the health impact of nuclear energy should not be limited to its contribution to air pollution, which is almost negligible, but also to the impact of nuclear waste and its disposal. the Lancet Journal The article mentioned (although misquoted) in Professor Winnie’s opinion piece is most likely that of Markandaya and Wilkinson (2007) which only included an assessment of the health impact of coal, petroleum , natural gas, nuclear and biomass. Other renewables such as solar and wind power were not included although the authors acknowledged that health impacts from these sources may be small and indirectly due to electricity generation.

[OPINION]    Activating BNPP would give workers and adults living nearby cancer

Strictly speaking, the number of obstacles faced by the development of nuclear energy in the country is reason enough to abandon any plan for the rehabilitation of BNPP nor the immediate adoption of nuclear energy in the energy mix. Further studies on the viability of nuclear energy in the country need to be carried out, which is clearly recognized in OE 164. It is in this aspect that renewable energy surpasses nuclear energy. Sufficient policies to pursue renewable energy development in the country (mainly RA No. 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act) are already in place. Unlike nuclear, renewable energy resources are available domestically, which could increase the country’s energy self-sufficiency and reduce sensitivity to global energy market shocks. The current state of renewable energy in the country is still far from perfect, but it is improving. Maybe, just maybe, the government should focus on this case instead of bringing the dead back to life?

Perhaps the best way to end this article is to answer the last question in Professor Winnie’s article: what are we waiting for?

We are waiting for the day when our country will no longer import or depend on dirty fossil fuels; the day when our compatriots will no longer suffer from high electricity prices, frequent blackouts and worry about the health impacts of pollution from fossil fuel power plants. Nuclear energy can provide answers to these concerns, but it is certainly not the best option. Rehab BNPP? Why not try “RIP, BNPP?” – VDP

Vince Davidson J. Pacañot is currently a graduate student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. It studies the environmental impacts of energy systems and ways to decarbonize these systems.


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