Home / Media & Events / Blogs / Waking Up the Sleeping ‘Giant’: What Should the Philippines Do for Bataan NPP Revival Plan?

Waking Up the Sleeping ‘Giant’: What Should the Philippines Do for Bataan NPP Revival Plan?

By Suwanto, Gabriele Maruli Tondi Siahaan
26 February 2024


As stated in The Philippines Energy Plan 2020-2040, one of the ways forward to achieve the reduced GHG emission target is by starting to introduce nuclear power as a long-term energy option. Nuclear energy is not a new concept in the Philippines, as the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the Philippines, Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) was initiated in 1976 and nearly completed by 1984, with a nameplate capacity of 621 MW, which could significantly contribute to energy mix. Due to the political situation in the Philippines, the succeeding administration of President Corazon Aquino decided not to operate the plant because of potential hazards to the health and safety of the public. Additional to that event, the construction of the BNPP coincided with the Chernobyl incident in Ukraine in 1986, which made the public perception of nuclear energy’s safety still vulnerable. 

After nearly four (4) decades of mothballing the BNPP, the plan to revive the BNPP came up as it was debated to be the fastest way for the Philippines to include nuclear energy in their energy system. This idea arose for reasons relating to the Philippine response to current energy security and energy transition issues. With such a considerably high capacity, BNPP is expected to contribute up to 5% to the country’s current energy supply to support growing energy demand while accelerating the country’s effort towards carbon reduction. 

However, considering the age of the plant and technology, reviving BNPP may give a lot of homework for the Philippines, both in terms of technical, social, and regulatory aspects. 

Learning from Temelin Nuclear Power Station 

The first step that may be taken by the Philippines to start this revival project is to look to the successful predecessor of a similar case. One of the successful Nuclear Power Plant developments can be seen in the Temelin Nuclear Power Station (TNPS) with a nameplate capacity of 2000 MW, with two operation units of 1000 MW each, in the Czech Republic. The planning for TNPS began in the 1970s and was submitted in 1985 by Energoprojekt Prague. The construction was then started in 1987 and was expected to be completed in 1987. However, due to the political and economic situation in the 1990s, mainly because of the Velvet Revolution, cost overrun, anti-nuclear issues, and some design changes, the first nuclear fuel was finally loaded to the first operation unit (TNPS 1) in July 2000, and it was started its first commercial operation in 2002. Currently, the TNPS can generate electricity of up to 2052 MWe net. Its presence is advantageous, as its operation in 2022 can yield CZK 80 billion (about USD 3.44 billion) in response to the Russian invasion and the energy crisis, which previously its dependency on Russian gas about 97%, now has dropped to only 4% by the end of summer of 2023. 

The TNPS was built with many challenges, and besides costs, two main things we can learn from are public opinion and safety. The TNPS was initially planned with the construction of four (4) reactors, but due to political issues, construction was carried out for only two reactors. The IAEA assisted the construction of the TNPS to address safety concerns. With several stages of safety assessments conducted from 1990 to 2001, the IAEA, the US, and other Western countries’ safety principles, criteria, and requirements were mostly applied to TNPS. In addition, several international safety review missions confirmed the fact that TNPS already met the safety principles, criteria, and requirements. Regarding public opinion, there was fluctuating support for operating the TNPS. In a 1999 opinion poll, 47% of Czech citizens were in favour, while 53% were against nuclear power development. In a 2001 opinion poll, 58% were in favor, and 42% were against it. Despite the challenges posed by varying public opinion, as a result of political changes and design modifications to meet safety standards, Reactor-1 commenced commercial operations in June 2002. 

Following what has been done with TNPS, a comprehensive assessment of the safety features and technological upgrades is imperative when reviving BNPP. The plant’s original design must be modernised to meet current international nuclear safety standards, and it should undergo thorough inspections and stress tests to ensure its structural integrity. Transparency and open dialogue with the public are key to addressing safety concerns, as well as involving international experts to provide unbiased assessments. Additionally, a robust regulatory framework must be established, including stringent safety protocols and a clear emergency response plan. Proper training for operators and regulatory personnel is crucial to maintaining the highest safety standards. Collaborations with countries experienced in nuclear energy, such as France, the U.S., Japan, and Russia, who have been exposed to developing and maintaining their nuclear energy for extended periods, can help the Philippines to provide guidance and share their expertise. 

Challenges in Reviving Bataan NPP and Way to Accelerate the Revival 

Besides public opinion and safety, the high cost of revival also becomes a major hurdle. While Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) estimated it at USD 1 billion to revive the plant, the Philippines Department of Energy (DOE) suggested it might reach USD 2.3 billion. These estimates are substantial, especially considering the country’s current economic situation and competing energy sources.  

Some actions have been taken by the government as its eagerness to revive the plant. One of them is cementing relations with the KHNP and starting the new phase for an in-depth study of the feasibility of repowering the BNPP. Besides, consultation with the Westinghouse Electric Corporation (the company that constructed the plant) was done in May 2023. It concluded that the use of some analogue technologies in the revived BNPP may still be acceptable as it is common and still used in some power plants, such as in South Korea and Slovenia. The government had also collaborated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) back in 2008 to reassess the chance to rehabilitate the plant. Reflecting on their report, the IAEA concluded that BNPP may still have hope for reviving with some notes on the importance of technological modernisation, the tendency for high-cost in the upfront of rehabilitation, and the urgency of a consistent policy and regulation. 

The revival of BNPP necessitates bridging various missing links to fit within the broader nuclear-specific policy and framework that may called the Philippines’ Nuclear Power Program. These links include establishing a comprehensive legal framework for nuclear energy, investing in human resource development to ensure skilled personnel are available for safe operation, involving stakeholders in open dialogue and decision-making processes, developing robust emergency planning for potential contingencies, and addressing the crucial issue of radioactive waste management, which demands strict and sustainable procedures to minimise environmental and public health risks. 

The Philippines should also focus on integrating nuclear power into its broader energy strategy, using it in combination with renewable energy sources to ensure a diverse, sustainable, and resilient energy portfolio. Considering the social and environmental implications, a comprehensive public awareness and education campaign is essential to build public trust and support for the revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. In doing so, the Philippines can harness the benefits of nuclear power while ensuring the utmost safety and environmental responsibility. 

In reviving the Bataan NPP, the Philippines may need to comprehend and extend its nuclear-related standards, policies, and regulations to gain public trust and political affirmation. This may be concluded by establishing a country’s Nuclear Power Program that also confines other aspects that have not been covered yet in the present policy. Finally, further financial assessment and financing schemes may also need to be explored to avoid high-cost overruns.