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Philippines Eyes Nuclear Revival

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MANILA – Filipino Wilfredo Torres was hired as a technician for South-East Asia’s only nuclear power plant in the 1980s, but has spent the past decade giving guided tours at the never-used facility.

The Philippines splashed out US$2.3bil (RM9bil) on the 621-megawatt Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, but mothballed it after the collapse of a dictatorship and the devastating Chernobyl disaster.

Now, there is a chance that Torres, 56, may see the plant in action before he retires in four years.

As power demand soars in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, its energy ministry is looking seriously again at nuclear power and urging President Rodrigo Dut­erte to fast-track its revival.

The Department of Energy has asked Duterte for an executive order declaring the Philippines ready for a nuclear power prog­ramme, said energy assistant secretary Gerardo Erguiza.

“With the need for cheaper and reliable power, nuclear is ideal. It’s a template in successful economies,” he said.

Past attempts to pursue nuclear energy in the Philippines have failed due to safety concerns and because central to the plan is the revival of the Bataan plant, built during dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ rule.

Marcos ordered the plant built in 1976 in response to an energy crisis, convinced that nuclear energy was the solution to the Middle East oil embargo of the early 1970s.

Completed in 1984, the government mothballed it two years later following Marcos’ ouster and the deadly Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

From 2009, the government opened the plant to tourists for a fee, helping to defray the cost of maintaining it, along with an annual state budget that, this year, was 32 million pesos (RM2.4mil).

While re-opening the Westing­house-­built Bataan plant is an option, so is building a new nuclear facility, said Erguiza, acknowledging that the former would “open up so many wounds” after costs came in over four times the initial budget.

Rehabilitating the Bataan plant would be the shortest nuclear route for the Philippines, taking about five years versus about a decade for a new plant, said engineer Mauro Marcelo, who oversaw the maintenance of the plant before he retired in March. — Reuters

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