Philippines' first working nuclear reactor

By Bea Jane Serna

PHOTO: DOST-PNRI/Manila Bulletin

34 years. 408 months. 12240 days. 293760 hours. 17625600 minutes. 1057536000 seconds.

It took the Philippines that long to recommission its sole nuclear reactor training facility, Philippine Research Reactor-1 Subcritical Assembly for Training, Education, and Research (PRR-1 SATER). As the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) began loading TRIGA nuclear fuel in the core, it has set a breakthrough for the country to re-establish its nuclear capabilities — however, is it really recommended for the Philippines to go nuclear?

To start off, the massive dependency of our country on nonrenewable energy, such as imported coal diesel, is the major reason why electricity, for one, in the Philippines is cost-insufficient and undependable. Power outages are even considered "regular" occurrences for Filipinos, as the country is also known to have the highest electricity prices among its Southeast Asian neighbors. Moreover, coal accounted for 57% of the total power generation in the country in 2020, overtaking oil as the biggest energy source. This shows that the country's dependence on nonrenewable energy has its downfall, thus highlighting the need to shift its power source.

In its efforts to search for reliable, safe, and affordable power, the Department of Energy (DOE) has considered nuclear energy as one of the plausible alternatives to fossil fuels. The government has nodded to it due to its capability of reinforcing 75 percent of the country's base load requirement, as mentioned by DOE Undersecretary Donato Marcos (Abando, 2017). "Strong economic growth and rising population will require more energy, plus the need for increased power capacity. Nuclear energy has proven to be economically viable, highly reliable, and may contribute towards reducing the high cost of electricity and carbon dioxide emissions," Marcos emphasized. In addition, although nuclear energy has fewer carbon emissions than fossil fuels, Dr. Ahmed Abdulla, a post-doctoral fellow from the University of California – San Diego, underlined that there is no guarantee that the use of nuclear power provides the energy security that any country needs. 

The risks brought by using nuclear energy as a source are maximized by the country's geographical location in the Pacific Ring of Fire. The possibility of stronger earthquakes poses great jeopardy to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), which sits on top of an undisclosed fault known as the Lubao fault. It is also to be taken into consideration that the technologies and techniques applied in the BNPP are quite old and obsolete compared to the modern nuclear power generation systems available today. 

By 2024, the Philippines is expected to face an energy crisis, in line with the recent announcement that Malampaya gas fields are nearing depletion. The question is, after 34 years, are we now capable and ready to maximize all energy sources available in the country, including nuclear energy? More. The departments of interest and authority need more time to research and discuss more on what is a better alternative other than nuclear energy, as this decision would change everything, not only for the Filipino people but for the country's system all-in-all.


Copyedited by Audrei Jeremy A. Mendador
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