Position Paper of AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People on HB 7049, or An Act Establishing the Philippine Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority and Providing for a Comprehensive Legal Framework for the Utilization of Nuclear Energy in the Philippines
The goal of HB 7049 is to create a new agency to pave the way for the use of nuclear energy for power production. Therefore, this bill and all other related bills are unnecessary and that the regulatory functions of PNRI should suffice for the time being. Should it be determined that the current mandates and regulatory functions of PNRI and other related government agencies are lacking in some areas, it may be more prudent and cost-effective to update those mandates and strengthen said institutions by allocating more budget for research and development, and most importantly providing more permanent employee positions and benefits for scientists and researchers.
The promise of nuclear energy as a catalyst for sustainable progress and national industrialization is nothing but fool’s gold. The Philippines does not have any local source of uranium that can be mined and enriched to fuel nuclear power plants. Therefore, as with most fossil fuels, we will still import and be at the mercy of other countries and price fluctuations from the global market.
That nuclear energy production is a carbon emission-free enterprise is a clear misrepresentation of the truth. While there may be minimal carbon emissions during energy production at a nuclear power plant, we need to look at the whole value chain. The carbon footprint from mining, transporting, storage, operating, and disposing of nuclear wastes significantly adds up. If the proponents were sincere in their concern to reduce our national carbon emissions and contribute to the fight against climate change, which are miniscule in the global scale to begin with, they should be writing legislation to promote and facilitate the use and development of renewable energy instead. We have enough talented Filipino scientists and engineers to develop this industry, they only need enabling working conditions and support from the government to do so.
The Philippine archipelago is one of the most tectonically active regions in the world. The threat of disasters from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are a constant risk faced by Filipinos everyday; putting radioactive materials in any community will elevate these risks by a thousandfold. Additionally, building the infrastructure for the end-to-end operation of a nuclear energy facility, from handling fuel, running reactors, to storing and disposing of nuclear wastes will require taking up space that even in the aseismic region such as Palawan, where threats from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are minimal, may not be an ideal use of space as the province is one of the most environmentally important areas in world. From the karstic limestones in the north, to the metamorphic and ultramafic terranes in central and south Palawan are important landscapes that require protection, not only are these extremely biodiverse regions, these also provide resources like water to communities in Palawan. Drilling into these rock formations to make space for nuclear facilities could upset the fragile balance between environmental and geophysical systems there. Every square meter is essential, from the surface to the underground, and we are losing more each day as the Marcos government allows foreign and private corporations to extract more for profit through big mining, or by converting and gentrifying land for tourism thereby displacing and dispossessing peoples of their homes and livelihoods. Communities have no recourse but to resist and fight back against these destructive projects.
But perhaps most important to note is the proximity of Palawan to the West Philippine Sea, where geopolitical tensions between global imperialist powers currently run high. The West Philippine Sea could be a flashpoint for a future conflict between these nations, and having radioactive materials in Palawan will endanger not only Palaweños and Filipinos, but our neighbors in Southeast Asia as well. We need not look far, the current war in Ukraine presents a clear example to that, as the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was threatened by attacks from Russian forces.
The push for the use of nuclear energy follows the trend of every development aggression project in the Philippines. It seeks to irrationally force on the Filipino people foreign, expensive, inappropriate, and dangerous techno-scientific solutions to local problems and issues at the expense of our people and the environment. The government needs to listen to the Filipino people and the scientists standing in solidarity with them, who are striving for inclusive development, national industrialization, and a self-reliant economy.