Senator calls for transparency on DOE’s nuclear program

Sherwin Gatchalian

AFTER urging the Department of Energy (DOE) to be more transparent in its nuclear program agenda, Senator Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian has filed a resolution for the Senate Committee on Energy to conduct an inquiry on the status of the agency’s Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organization (NEPIO), including its recommendation for the country to embark on a nuclear power program.

“A comprehensive, transparent, and public discussion must be made on the merits of a national nuclear program taking into consideration the social, economic, environmental, and technical effects and requirements of such a program,” said Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy,  in filing Proposed Senate Resolution No. (PSRN) 162.

Gatchalian pointed out that the development of a nuclear power program in any country requires three phases marked by a specific milestone, and the completion of 19 infrastructure requirements, which necessitate specific actions during each of these three phases as indicated in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power.

“The Philippines is currently completing Phase One, which commenced when the DOE issued Department Order No. D.O. 2016-10-0013 last 2016, creating a body called the Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organization (NEPIO) tasked with exploring the development and inclusion of nuclear energy in the country’s electric power supply,” he said.

He added that phase two requires preparation for the contracting and construction of a nuclear power plant after a policy decision has been made, and its milestone is an invitation to bid or negotiate a contract for the power plant. Phase three, meanwhile, details the activities necessary to implement the first nuclear power plant, and its milestone is the commissioning and operation of such activities.

“The NEPIO has transmitted a communication to the Office of the President, dated April16,  2018, containing the following recommendations: (1) Approval of a National Position to Embark on a Nuclear Power Program (NPP); (2) Issuance of an Executive Order in relation thereto; and (3) Filing and/or certification as urgent existing bills providing for a nuclear regulatory and legal framework,” Gatchalian said.

Gatchalian stressed in his resolution that IAEA officials  visited the country in February last year for the preliminary discussions with DOE and the Department of Science and Technology for the development of nuclear power as part of the Philippines’ power mix.

The IAEA officials again visited the Philippines last December for the completion of an eight-day Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) assessing the country’s readiness in adopting nuclear power. This resulted in the creation of an INIR Mission Report, which contains specific recommendations and suggestions as well as identified good practices of the Philippine government in the introduction of nuclear power in the country.

However, Gatchalian said the DOE has not made these proposals and assessments and the IAEA’s INIR Mission Report available to the public, or even to Congress.

The senator earlier called on the DOE to be more transparent in its nuclear program agenda amid reports that the Philippines and Russia signed a deal on exploring the possible construction of nuclear power plant. Gatchalian made the call during the hearing of the DOE’s 2020 budget. 

Gatchalian is also pushing for a thorough review of the Philippines’ nuclear energy program after a memorandum of intent was signed by Philippine and Russian officials “to jointly explore the prospects of cooperation in the construction of nuclear power plants in the Philippines during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Moscow last week. A proposal to build a floating nuclear power plant in the country was also forwarded by Russia.