The Philippines needs to pursue nuclear power to improve its long-term energy security and slash carbon emissions from its highly polluting coal-fired power fleet.
Nuclear power plays a significant contribution to achieving sustainable energy goals and enhancing energy security . Globally, nuclear power has contributed to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by more than 60 gigatonnes (GT) over the past 50 years, which is almost two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions . Nuclear power is also a potential source of clean power to drive industrialization and growing incomes, especially with new smaller, safer, and more flexible designs expected to come to the market over the next decade. One example can be seen in France with its 57 nuclear reactors–62.3 Gigawatt-electric (GWe).
France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity attributable to a very low cost of generation and gains over €3 billion per year from this. France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost of electricity in Europe. It also has an extremely low level of carbon dioxide emissions per capita from electricity generation, since over 70% of its electricity is nuclear. There is a potential that the success story of France can be adopted for ASEAN’s growth.
The Energy Landscape
ASEAN is vastly growing into a major economic force and driver of global growth. Along with this growth, according to the 6th ASEAN Energy Outlook, it is projected that energy demand will increase from 375 Mtoe in 2017 to 922 Mtoe in 2040. The installed power capacity will also increase up to 629 GW in 2040, with 70.5% of the share will be covered by fossil fuel. Being one of the world’s fastest-growing market, ASEAN is facing challenges in meeting energy demand in the future.
ASEAN has recently adopted the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) Phase II:2021-2025, which aims to accelerate its energy transition and enhance energy resilience, while also keep ensuring its energy security.
Therefore, ASEAN is exploring an approach to diversify its energy mix by introducing clean and reliable energy, such as civilian nuclear energy. The region’s cooperation will affect The Philippines, as one of its member states.
The Philippines, as the third-largest economy and the second most populated country in ASEAN , is having the same battle in balancing the future energy supply and demand. The country is a net coal and oil importer, which imported nearly half the country’s primary energy supply.
The country’s power supply reached a total of 25,532 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity in 2019, of which fossil fuels accounted for 60%, as coal (35,4%) increased its share of the total power generation to cover for the reduced hydropower output. For the upcoming future, especially for meeting the sustainable post-pandemic recovery, the challenges in meeting future energy demand are substantial. Moreover, the importance of energy transition has opened opportunities for The Philippines to reduce fossil fuel usage and explore other alternative energy sources including nuclear energy.
In the Civilian Nuclear Energy Factsheet that was published by ACE in 2020 , switching from coal to nuclear can save 859 tonnes of CO2 per GWh. Assuming the coal power plant capacity factor in The Philippines is 65%, the coal power plants produce 51 TWh of electricity every year. Switching 50% of coal into nuclear in the Philippines can avoid as much as 22 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
Nuclear Development in The Philippines
The ideas of pursuing nuclear energy for power generation is not new for the Philippines. Completed in 1984, the 623-megawatt (MW) Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) located in Luzon, was mothballed in 1986 due to post-Chernobyl political and safety issues emanated during the change of government administration. The plans to re-open the plant has been raised multiple times, such as during the power crises in the 90s and the skyrocketing of oil prices in 2007.
President Duterte, in July 2020, gave a green light to pursue the development of civilian nuclear energy (CNE) for power generation through the issuance of Executive Order (EO) 116, which includes studying the viability of nuclear energy, and recommend steps in the utilisation of nuclear energy as well as existing facilities such as BNPP. EO 116 serves as a guide on any policy decision that the President will be undertaking as to the country’s nuclear power renaissance pathway.
Moreover, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi assured in an international forum that public concerns in the Philippines about the use of nuclear power to achieve long term energy security and sufficiency will be addressed properly, as the country embarks on its nuclear energy programme. The Energy Secretary said, under the clean energy scenario (CES), the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) already projects the inclusion of nuclear power in the energy mix by 2027.
Nuclear Energy Barriers
According to the Philippines Department of Energy (DOE)’s public perception survey, the approval rating on the possible rehabilitation of the BNPP and building new NPP is considerably high, with 79% and 65%, respectively. Although the current public acceptance is considerably high, it is important to maintain public literacy and acceptance. Learning from Germany, the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has weakened public confidence towards nuclear energy resulted in the decision of the government to permanently shut down eight of its reactors and pledged to close the rest by 2022.
The other barrier for Civilian Nuclear Energy (CNE) will be cost and a long time for deployment. A conventional NPP relies on a high capital cost with a construction period of at least five years ; hence, this can be mitigated by smaller design such as the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
SMRs are a smaller type of nuclear fission reactors that are often manufactured at a plant and be brought to the site-of-use for assembly. This reduces the costs of labour, improve quality control, and maximise learning effects. SMRs capacity is below 300 MWe which are ideal for island-grids or archipelago such as the Philippines, which comprise 7,641 islands with over 100 million population; hence, SMRs would be a potentially viable technology to be adopted and implemented.
During the ACE webinar in 2020 , The Philippines showed their interest in pursuing SMR as DOE has completed the Pre-Feasibility Study for the deployment of SMR in Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), jointly with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Ltd. (KHNP) in 2019. The study was done with the focus on System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor Technology (SMART) reactor. It proposed the utilisation of SMR for a stable supply of power, without the large-scale transmission lines and cognizant with the national energy policy, to transform CEZA into a hub for trade, commerce, financial, technology and leisure area.
CNE has been proven as a technology to advance the energy transition and enhance energy resilience. The success story of countries utilising nuclear energy could serve as a reference for ASEAN countries, especially in the Philippines. Executive Order No. 116 (EO 116) signed by President R. Duterte with high acceptance of NPP in The Philippines are a driving factor to attract investment in the development of CNE in the country.
However, open-transparent relationship and two-way communication channel to improve public perception and awareness should be maintained; thus, NPP key stakeholder’s discussion must become the priority. Moreover, SMRs may be of special interest in the country and the region.
We have seen the milestones of the Philippines in their actions to pursue CNE development. The necessity of accelerating energy transition and strengthening energy resilience in ASEAN is imminent; therefore, exploring the use of CNE is one way to achieve our common goal. However, moving forward, will we see The Philippines as a driving force to the development of CNE in ASEAN? Will we see energy transition and energy resiliency through CNE development?
Disclaimer: This is an Op-ed article. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of institutions or organisations that the author may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity unless explicitly stated.
This article was written by Albertcassy C. Masinas, Alfred Gurning, Christopher G. Zamora, Dynta Munardy, and Rizky Aditya Putra.