Majority leader Joel Villanueva on Wednesday said he is open to discussions on the plan of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) and the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos to secure potential deals with South Korea, France, and the United States for the construction of nuclear power plants in the Philippines.
However, Villanueva said he has reservations about this idea.
“We are all aware that nuclear power plants contain radioactive material that is extremely harmful to humans and the environment,” he said.
“We also need to conduct a thorough evaluation of potential sites for the power plant and waste storage,” he added.
“Can this technology be efficiently utilized in an archipelagic country such as the Philippines?” he inquired.
Pointing out that nuclear power plants would cost billions of dollars, he questioned how the Philippines can afford such projects.
Assuming that the project would be cost efficient, he asked how long it would take to get a return on investment.
On this note, Villanueva said he is more open to exploring the use of modular types of nuclear plants for the country.
Using small modular reactors, he noted, could prove to be an affordable option and manageable in size and scale for the country.
“We have seen these in other countries but we wanted to study further.”
Minority leader Aquilino Pimentel III said generation of electricity through nuclear technology must be authorized first by law.
He said the legal framework must first be approved. Then the regulatory body must be put up to approve the project before even a square inch of construction is started.
“There must also be a law on how the nuclear waste is managed. In short, the decision to adopt nuclear power generation is not for the executive branch alone to decide. Congress must be involved in formulating this policy,” Pimentel said.
“And then under the Local Government Code written by my father the late Senate President Nene Pimentel, the LGUs and their people should also now be consulted especially if their area is a chosen or potentialsite of the nuclear power plants,” he added.
He pointed out that the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was already beyond rehabilitation. “We should no longer continue wasting money on that,” he stressed.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito cited the need to reconsider nuclear power.
“We need to bring down the cost of energy for our economy to be able to fully develop and at same time address the issue of Climate Change and Global warming which will be both addressed by shift Nuclear Power.”
Sen Risa Hontiveros said insisting on nuclear energy use in the Philippines will be taking a step backwards into the past, and not into a sustainable and peaceful future.
Nuclear energy, she said entails the generation of radioactive waste, which will pose a long-term and difficult problem for Filipinos.
“Even now, advocates of nuclear energy cannot fully answer the question of how and where we will safely store radioactive waste whose half-lives will outlive us, our children and our grandchildren,” Hontiveros said.
“There is no assurance that the Philippines will avoid any nuclear accidents if it does pursue nuclear energy, given that such accidents have happened even in countries like Japan and the United States,” she added.
“Worse, radioactive waste and raw material for nuclear energy in the Philippines could be a target for local and foreign terror groups seeking to get their hands on radiological materials.”
She said the government should instead focus its efforts on better harnessing alternative and renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and small and medium-scale hydro power, among others which are endemic in the country.
These sources of renewable energy have clear potential to take up a bigger share of our energy mix without the health, economic and environmental dangers posed by nuclear energy.
For his part, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said one lesson that the Ukraine invasion has thought us is we should be open to all forms of technology in order to improve our energy security. Nuclear power is a technology that the country can look at but should study carefully given its risk and complications. As a way forward, he said the government should commence the enactment of mandatory treaties and laws related to nuclear power such the creation of an independent nuclear regulator and adherence to nuclear safety.