Paradigm shift on nuclear power
After four decades, the Philippines is tapping nuclear power again as a viable alternative source of energy.
Last week, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla signed an agreement with the United States government for the export of nuclear technology and materials to the Philippines.
The technology-sharing arrangement would enable the Philippines to develop small modular nuclear reactors and other civilian nuclear energy infrastructure.
They are expected to boost the country’s energy resources and reduce its dependence on coal-powered generators that are harmful to the environment.
Recall that, in the past, whenever the Philippines suffered from low energy supply that resulted in power shutdowns (or brownouts), nuclear energy was repeatedly suggested by lawmakers and the business sector as a possible solution to the problem.
But those proposals did not gain traction because of fears that the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986 that resulted in the death of scores of people and made its surrounding areas inhospitable might be repeated.
Besides, the Philippines’ initial attempt on nuclear energy, through the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), was marred by allegations of corruption and safety concerns. History might repeat itself.
That $2.3-billion plant failed to supply any energy and had been mothballed since its construction in 1984.
The negative reports about nuclear plants, which sometimes included gruesome photos of persons who were exposed to radioactive materials, have made nuclear energy unpopular or dreadful to many Filipinos. In light of the proven adverse effects of burning coal (and other fossil-based materials) on the climate and the high demand for energy to meet the country’s industrial and commercial needs, it’s time to have a paradigm shift on nuclear technology. For decades, the dry (or so-called summer) seasons in the country had been marked by chronic inadequate power supply due to low water in antiquated water dams or the shutting down of power plants for maintenance or emergency repair purposes.
This had resulted (and which continues up to the present) in power shutdowns in residential, commercial and industrial areas. For the business sector, every power interruption, regardless of its duration or even if with advance warning, represents substantial losses in productivity and additional operating costs.
What’s more, the unreliability of energy is a major disincentive to the entry of foreign investments in the country. Maintaining gasoline-fed power generators to minimize work disruption in case of brownouts is costly and, worse, gives rise to safety and health issues.
There is no question the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster is a cause for serious concern. Its tragic human and environmental consequences cannot be ignored.
But after 37 years, it is reasonable to assume that the world’s nuclear experts have learned from it and have come up with measures that should be followed to prevent its recurrence.
Note that when an airplane crashes due to a technical malfunction, there is no call for the abolition of air travel. Instead, the cause of the disaster is analyzed and steps are taken by authorities to avoid it from happening again.
The fact that countries that maintain nuclear plants to meet their energy needs continued to do so despite the Chernobyl meltdown should be food for thought to skeptics of nuclear energy. The concern raised that the construction of modular nuclear facilities could be marred by the same corruption that allegedly accompanied the construction of the BNPP is understandable.
Every centavo lost to corruption is money taken from the pocket of Filipino taxpayers.
There is a big difference, however, between the time the BNPP was constructed and today. At that time, the country was under martial law and questioning public works was a perilous act.
But things are different now. Any hint of corruption in the construction of those facilities would surely invite attention from Congress, business organizations and traditional and social media. INQ
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