By Charmaine A. Tadalan
THE International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Wednesday transmitted to the Department of Energy (DoE) its 19-point Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) on the Philippines’ preparedness for nuclear energy.
Among the recommendations of the IAEA, an arm of the United Nations, is to involve a broader range of stakeholders in the process of adopting nuclear energy.
The IAEA has also given the DoE 90 days or until Jan. 23 to decide whether to allow the public to access the entire report on its website.
Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) Director Carlo A. Arcilla said he recommends the report’s publication to minimize public suspicions about the process of adopting nuclear power.
“My view on that is that it should be publicized. Why? Because there’s nothing to hide. Number two, the most important thing in nuclear is stakeholders,” Mr. Arcilla told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the hand-over ceremony in Taguig City Wednesday.
“(The nuclear industry) has learned its lesson; In the past, they tried to be secretive. When you are secretive, people will imagine the worst.”
Mr. Arcilla also raised the need to develop an alternative power source, citing Saudi Arabia, which in July 2018 tapped the IAEA to review its preparedness for nuclear power.
“Saudi Arabia is planning to have nuclear power plants, what does that tell us? The world’s most energy-secure country, richest in oil, is trying to build nuclear plants, what’s that telling us?”
The INIR report also flagged the Philippines’ lack of legal and regulatory frameworks for operating nuclear power plants. Among others, a comprehensive law will make the PNRI an independent regulatory body.
A measure establishing a regulatory framework on nuclear development was passed in the House of Representatives in the 17th Congress, but failed to win approval on final reading approval in the Senate before session adjourned in June.
A major concern of stakeholders in developing nuclear energy is the proper disposal of radioactive waste, which Mr. Arcilla said is a “technically solvable issue.”
“If you ask me how we’ll dispose of the waste, very simple. We are number three in the world in geothermal, we drill very deep wells, up to two kilometers. So I would like to get an isolated island, I’ll drill a 2-km well, all of the Philippines’ waste will fit in there,” he said.
“And then I’ll cover that with a material, bentonite, a crystal filter. If the uranium escapes it will be locked up there without chance of parole. Hindi pwedeng i-GCTA (It cannot avail of GCTA),” he said, referring to the Good Conduct Time Allowance policy that recently lead to the early release of a number of notorious convicts.
Mr. Arcilla also sees possible opposition from the rest of the energy industry.
“There will be people who will not be happy with nuclear, including other providers of energy. ‘Yun ‘yung mga nag-o-oppose (Those are the oppositors) but if you want clean consistent and cheap energy nothing matches nuclear.”
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, the chamber’s Energy Committee chairman, said it is important for the DoE to explain the process of adopting nuclear energy, its risks, and the funding needed.
“First things first, I think nuclear power by itself is very controversial as well as a very complicated energy source. Complicated because it has inherent risks, especially when it comes to safety and nuclear waste. Having said that, ang pinakamahalaga ngayon (the most important thing) is to be transparent to the public,” Mr. Gatchalian told BusinessWorld by telephone Wednesday.
Mr. Gatchalian said his Committee will hold an inquiry to further discuss the DoE’s nuclear agenda, particularly the contents of the INIR, on the resumption of session before Congress adjourns for a month-long break on Dec. 20.
“The public should understand clearly what the steps are, the risks and the budget involved. Especially, what the government role is in terms of putting this nuclear agenda together.
“The INIR is the first step to understand the regulatory and legal statutes we need to enact prior to investing more in nuclear energy.”
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