Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Future of Energy in the Philippines

by Emmarie Bonganciso | March 10, 2022

In the light of heated arguments in geopolitics and crucial international relations, the prices for goods and services have continued to skyrocket, leaving everyday consumers anxious to scour for the cheapest offers for the most basic needs. And in this wave of economic scuffle, we trace it back to the ever-coveted asset, energy.  

The Philippines has been facing a mounting energy crisis even before the start of the pandemic as the Malampaya gas fields, which supply 30% of Luzon’s energy consumption, are expected to be depleted by 2024. A study done by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis states that the Philippines’ electricity prices is the highest in Southeast Asia at roughly P10/kWh mainly due to its excessive reliance on imported coal and diesel which similarly, has been escalating in price. 

This brings us to February 28, 2022, when President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order to adopt a national position for a nuclear energy program. The establishment of the Nuclear Energy Program is a process that starts with the inclusion of nuclear power in the energy mix based on a pre-feasibility study on the need for and viability of nuclear power. Section 3 of the executive order states that this is to include the development of nuclear power infrastructure and encompasses the planning and construction, operational, commercial, and post-operational stages of nuclear power plants. Consequently, this has opened up the possibility of reviving operations in the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. 

The said power plant was constructed in response to the 1970s energy crisis during the Marcos administration but was later mothballed after news of the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion shook the world. Despite never being commissioned, the plant has remained intact since its completion in 1984, including its nuclear reactor and continues to be maintained. But it’s exactly events like Chernobyl and Fukushima that immediately echo into the minds of many until now. The byproduct of nuclear energy is radioactive material, a collection of unstable atomic nuclei. These nuclei lose their energy and can affect many materials around them, including organisms and the environment. 

Radioactive material can be extremely toxic, causing burns and increasing the risk for cancers, blood diseases, and bone decay. In September of 1999, Hisashi Ouchi was one of the employees who were heavily impacted by the Tokaimura nuclear power plant incident. Ouchi together with two other employees was exposed to deadly levels of radiation. Being exposed to 17 Sv of radiation, a rate proven to be deadly, Ouchi fell victim to the radiation’s effects. 

In spite of this, nuclear energy is still considered to be one of the most environmentally-friendly forms of energy production in the world. Such claims have been subject to many strenuous debates among scientists, politicians, and concerned citizens throughout history. 

“Nuclear is cheaper than other sources of energy,” says Gerardo Erguiza Jr., undersecretary of the Department of Energy in an interview. “When electricity and oil is [sic] so expensive just like what we have been experiencing it’s because we have limited sources of fuel and we have to diversify.” 

So what is nuclear energy? And how is it useful or if in any case better, than other sources of energy? National Geographic explains nuclear energy as that which comes from the nucleus or core of an atom. There is a huge amount of energy in an atom’s dense nucleus. In fact, the power that holds the nucleus together is officially called the “strong force.” Nuclear energy can be used to create electricity, but it must first be released from the atom. With fewer emissions and greater efficiency, there are many pros and cons of nuclear energy to consider.

Nuclear power plants are essentially unaffected by external climatic factors and thus create predictable and steady energy output. But then again, nuclear energy is not a renewable energy source. Although nuclear energy itself is a renewable energy source, the material used in nuclear power plants is not. The material most often used in nuclear power plants is the element uranium. Although uranium is found in rocks all over the world, nuclear power plants usually use a very rare type of uranium, U-235. Uranium is a non-renewable resource.

Experts have shown that nuclear energy has the advantage of being one of the most cost-effective energy solutions available. The cost to produce electricity from nuclear energy is much lower than that of gas, coal, or oil unless those resources are located near the power plant they supply. But despite being relatively inexpensive to operate, nuclear power plants are still really expensive to build. From 2002 to 2008, the estimated cost to build a nuclear plant rose from $2-$4 billion to $9 billion. Power plants often exceed their cost estimates during construction.

Nuclear energy is undoubtedly a popular and controversial way of generating electricity around the world. Countries such as Lithuania, France, and Slovakia create almost all of their electricity from nuclear power plants as it’s also been found to have a high energy density. Nuclear fission, the process used to generate nuclear energy, releases much greater amounts of energy than simply burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, or gas. This means that it requires less fuel to power the plant and therefore creates less waste too.  

The Department of Energy acknowledges that it will have to hold many discussions and undergo lengthy procedures before it can officially put forward some concrete steps towards diversifying our country’s energy sources, which is why they hope that the next administration will carry on the nuclear energy program. And so as the Philippines gets ready to select its leaders, weighing in on where we stand on nuclear power becomes crucial to alleviating the overwhelming energy crisis. Clearly, nuclear energy has a lot to offer but the question still remains: is the state of our nation ready to awaken a sleeping giant after four decades? Are we ready to take on the so-called “strong force” of the universe and count the cost of doing so? These questions need time for pondering. And we have to start deliberating now. 

References:

Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy. (n.d.). Spring Power and Gas. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://springpowerandgas.us/the-pros-cons-of-nuclear-energy-is-it-safe/ 

National Geographic Society. (2012, October 9). nuclear energy. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/nuclear-energy/ 

National Geographic Society. (2013, February 14). non-renewable energy. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/non-renewable-energy/

ALAMIN: Tugon ng Presidential Bets sa Paggamit ng Nuclear Energy sa Bansa. (2022, March 5). YouTube. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoEaRxRab4s

Aneculaesei, C. (2020, July 26). The Man Kept Alive Against His Will. Medium.

https://historyofyesterday.com/the-man-kept-alive-against-his-will-647c7a24784

Philippines Energy Market. (2020, April 22). International Trade Administration | Trade.Gov. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.trade.gov/market-intelligence/philippines-energy-market

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