Nuclear Power in the Philippines

(Updated March 2022)

  • In response to the 1973 oil crisis, the Philippines began construction of a nuclear power plant. The 621 MWe Westinghouse unit at Bataan was completed in 1984 but never commissioned.
  • With electricity demand expected to more than triple by 2040, energy security is a stated priority for the government.
  • The country is exploring the feasibility of a nuclear power programme, including the possible revival of the Bataan project or constructing a small modular reactor.
 

 

Electricity sector

Total generation (in 2019): 106 TWh

Generation mix: coal 57.9 TWh (55%); natural gas 22.4 TWh (21%); geothermal 10.7 TWh (10%); hydro 8.0 TWh (8%); oil 3.8 TWh (4%); solar 1.2 TWh; wind 1.0 TWh; biofuels & waste 1.0 TWh

Import/export balance: no imports or exports

Total consumption: 87.1 TWh

Per capita consumption: c. 800 kWh in 2019

Source: International Energy Agency and The World Bank. Data for year 2019.

The Philippines comprises 7641 separate islands. Its population of about 110 million is growing and is served by just 25.5 GWe of electrical generation capacity as of 2019, and power shortages and outages remain common. The Philippine Department of Energy (DOE) expects peak electricity demand to more than triple by 2040.

A key priority for the government is energy security, as emphasized in the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP). Self-sufficiency is becoming more challenging as demand for oil from the transport sector increases, and demand for coal for power generation grows as the country’s main gas field, Malampaya, is progressively depleted.

As of June 2020, 93.5% of households had access to electricity. PEP 2017-2040 set out a target for universal access to electricity by 2022. In its 2021 Annual Report, the DOE said it was on track to meet this target.

Nuclear power industry

Bataan nuclear power plant

In response to the 1973 oil crisis, the Ferdinand Marcos administration decided to build a nuclear plant comprising two 600 MWe units. By the time the contract was signed in February 1976, it was for a single 621 MWe Westinghouse unit at Napot Point in Bataan. Construction work began in July 1976 and was completed in 1984 at a cost of $1.9 billion. However, due to financial issues and safety concerns related to earthquakes, the plant was never loaded with fuel or operated. Following the April 1986 Chernobyl accident, recently-elected President Corazon Aquino decided to mothball the plant.

The Bataan project was beset by allegations of corruption. In 1988 the Philippines government brought charges of bribery against Westinghouse and engineering firm Burns & Roe Associates; however, investigations by the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission found no evidence of bribery – as did an International Chamber of Commerce tribunal. In May 1993 Westinghouse and Burns & Roe were cleared of civil bribery charges by a District Court for New Jersey jury. Charges were also brought before the Philippines' Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in 1987 against Herminio Disini, who brokered the Bataan contract, and former President Marcos and his wife Imelda Marcos. In April 2012 the court absolved the Marcoses due to lack of evidence, but ruled that Disini had received $50 million in commissions from Westinghouse and had exerted undue influence in the awarding of the Bataan contract.

In April 2007, the Philippine government made the final payment for the plant. The government was considering converting it into a natural gas-fired power plant, but this seemed impractical, and it has simply been maintained at a cost of some $800,000 per year.

In 2008 an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission commissioned by the government advised that Bataan could be refurbished and economically operated for 30 years. Refurbishment, with upgrade of safety and instrumentation & control systems, was estimated to cost $800 million to $1 billion. The IAEA was also to recommend a policy framework for nuclear power development in the country. In December 2008 the National Power Corporation (Napocor) commissioned Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco, parent company of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power) to conduct an 18-month feasibility study on commissioning Bataan. One factor in choosing Kepco for this was its experience with Kori 2, a very similar unit in Korea. Its preliminary recommendation in December 2009 was that Bataan should be refurbished. Meanwhile, Toshiba expressed interest in rehabilitating the plant. In May 2013 Napocor urged the government to refurbish and commission the plant to address power shortages. It estimated the $1 billion cost as being one-third of building equivalent coal-fired capacity. Following sharp rises in electricity prices over 2014 to 2016 the DOE was reported to be studying the prospect of reviving the project with South Korean help.

The possible revival of the Bataan plant remains under consideration, but the DOE is also looking into building a new nuclear plant using small modular reactor (SMR) technology.

Nuclear energy plans

In 2007 the Philippines DOE set up a project to study the development of nuclear energy, in the context of an overall energy plan for the country. Nuclear energy would be considered in order to reduce the country's dependency on imported oil and coal. In its 2008 update of the national energy plan, 600 MWe nuclear was projected online in 2025, with further 600 MWe increments in 2027, 2030 and 2034 to give 2400 MWe.

Apart from Bataan, the government was considering two further 1000 MWe Korean Standard Nuclear Plant units, using equipment from the aborted North Korean KEDO project. Kepco was reported to be offering this equipment for $1.1 billion, but it has since been redeployed elsewhere.

The government established a working group with a view to proceeding along the same lines as Thailand, retaining engineering consultants to guide progress. At the end of 2012 the DOE confirmed that nuclear remained a live option of the grounds of costs and clean air.

Early in 2016, and again in November, the DOE reiterated that nuclear power was a live option, possibly to take over some of coal’s base-load role.

In October 2016 the DOE created a nuclear energy programme implementing organization (NEPIO) to assess the feasibility of nuclear power as a long-term energy option in accordance with the IAEA 'milestones' approach. In the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) 2018-2040, the DOE presented its Nuclear Power Program Roadmap, which envisages the country's first nuclear plant being commissioned from 2027 at the earliest. The first of the roadmap's three phases consisted of a number of pre-feasibility studies to identify critical infrastructure areas to be addressed before launching a nuclear power programme.

In March 2017 the DOE said it was exploring the potential of a small reactor in Sulu province, Mindanao, and would produce an overall nuclear programme for the country, including Bataan. In May 2017 a nuclear cooperation agreement was signed with Rosatom, followed by another in November 2017 setting out a five-year programme of discussions. The DOE signed a further agreement with Rosatom in October 2019, to assess the feasibility of a small nuclear power plant, floating or on land, and probably using RITM-200 reactors.

In February 2018, the country's energy secretary reported: "The possible inclusion of nuclear power in the current energy mix is consistent with the national policy of a technology-neutral energy sector." In December 2018 the IAEA concluded an integrated nuclear infrastructure review (INIR) at the request of the government and under the auspices of the NEPIO. The INIR team noted that draft legislation on nuclear safety, security and safeguards, as well as the establishment of an independent regulatory body, was being considered by Congress. The team also noted that the country recognized the importance of open and transparent public communication, and recommended including a broader range of stakeholders in preparations for the introduction of nuclear power. The report on phase 1 of its INIR was delivered to the DOE in October 2019.

In June 2018 the DOE announced that KHNP would carry out a study on building a 100 MWe SMART small modular reactor (SMR) in Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) in Santa Ana, Cagayan, on the northeasternmost point of Luzon, as well as a review of the Bataan plant. In October 2019 the DOE signed a memorandum of intent with Rusatom Overseas to carry out a pre-feasibility study on building SMRs in the Philippines.

In July 2020 the President signed Executive Order 116, which established the Nuclear Energy Program Inter-Agency Committee (NEP-IAC) to conduct a study on a national position on a nuclear energy programme. The President stated: “There is an imperative need to revisit the country's policy on nuclear energy and to determine its feasibility as a long-term option for power generation.”

In July 2021 the DOE announced that it had identified 15 possible locations that could host a nuclear power plant.

In February 2022 the President signed Executive Order 164, which mandates the DOE to develop and implement a nuclear programme. The order requires the NEP-IAC to "make recommendations on the use and viability of the Bataan nuclear power plant and the establishment of other facilities for the utilization of nuclear energy."

Fuel cycle

Waste

In 1998 the Philippines signed the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and Radioactive Waste Management.

Public opinion

According to the DOE, negative perception of nuclear energy is prevalent. In PEP 2020-2040 it acknowledges the need to improve public awareness and acceptance to allow for a nuclear energy programme to move forward.

Regulation, safety and non-proliferation

The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), formerly the Philippines Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), acts as both the nuclear regulatory authority and the entity responsible for research and development of nuclear sciences and technology.

In July 2017 a bill was introduced to Congress to create an independent nuclear safety regulator – the Philippine Nuclear Regulatory Commission (PNRC) – that would decide on issues affecting public health and safety, protection of the environment, and nuclear security and safeguards. Currently the PNRI carries out promotional and regulatory functions under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The fiscal provisions required for the passage of the bill were approved in August 2021.

Non-proliferation

The Philippines' safeguards agreement with the IAEA under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force in 1974 and the Additional Protocol in February 2010.


Notes & references

Republic of the Philippines Department of Energy, Philippine Energy Plan 2020-2040 (October 2021)
The President of the Philippines, Executive Order No. 164 (February 2022)


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