House ensures strict use of nuclear energy

December 6, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 132 views

THE House of Representatives has given its final nod to a proposed legislation requiring the establishment of a comprehensive national emergency plan for nuclear and radiological emergencies as well as for radioactive waste management and funding for the eventual decommissioning or disposition of facilities and spent nuclear fuel (SNF), to set the stage for the Marcos administration’s use of nuclear or atomic sources to help attain energy security, according to Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte.

Villafuerte, National Unity Party (NUP) president, said these two requisites are found in House Bill (HB) 9293, which the bigger chamber passed last month on third and final reading by a 200-7 vote with 2 abstentions, to set up a legal framework to govern and make possible the safe use of nuclear energy but only for our future commercial requirements.

“The development by the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) of a national emergency plan for potential nuclear or radiological emergencies plus the establishment of separate funds for the final disposition of SNF and the eventual decommissioning of would-be nuclear power facilities are on the must-do list of HB 9293 for our safe and secure use of atomic energy,” said Villafuerte.

“Once approved by the 19th Congress and signed into law by President Marcos, this measure will clear the way to the safe use of nuclear or atomic power for our household and commercial or industrial power requirements, in step with the Marcos administration’s long-term strategy to spell energy security while steadily weaning our country away from fossil fuel and reducing our carbon footprint,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte said that as pointed out by Speaker Martin Romualdez following its plenary approval in the House, this bill—to be known as the “Philippine National Nuclear Energy Safety Act”—marks the “first step” towards achieving the President’s vision for energy security.

HB 9293 seeks the creation of the Philippine Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (PhilATOM) to take over all regulatory functions concerning nuclear energy and radiation from the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) and the Radiation Regulation Division of the Center for Device Regulation, Radiation, Health and Research of the Department of Health–Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Villafuerte said the bill tasks the NDRRMC, which is attached to the Department of National Defense-Office of Civil Defense (DND-OCD), to draw up and maintain a national emergency plan for responding to potential nuclear or radiological emergencies, with the prior recommendation of the PhilATOM and approval by the Secretary of the Department.

This national emergency plan shall include, he said, an allocation of responsibilities and actions among relevant governmental and nongovernmental bodies, including arrangements for communications and public information.

In case of a nuclear or radiological emergency that poses a risk of radioactive contamination spreading beyond Philippine boundaries, the bill mandates the government to “immediately notify the IAEA and the relevant authorities of any State that may be physically affected by a release that could be of radiological significance,” he said.

As a condition for any entity to put up and run a nuclear power plant, Villafuerte said the bill requires the operator to set aside an amount equivalent to P0.06/kWh (kilowatt-hour) of electricity generated from the use of nuclear energy for commercial power generation, for the to-be-established Radioactive Waste Management Fund.

This Fund shall be used, he said, for the final disposition of SNF by geologic isolation using deep boreholes, and to be held in trust by the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

Also, he said, as a condition for an operator to run a nuclear power facility, it must set aside the amount of P0.06/kWh of electricity generated from the use of nuclear energy for commercial power generation for the establishment of an end-of-life Decommissioning Fund for nuclear plants, also to be held in trust by the DBP.

The PhilATOM is directed under the bill to refrain from granting a license to nuclear plants other than those with Light Water Reactors (LWR) and Heavy Water Reactors (HWR), “until such time that non-water cooled or moderated reactors shall have operated incident-free in the country of origin for at least nineteen thousand seven hundred ten (19,710) operating hours, unless the specific reactor type is exempted by the President of the Philippines through an executive issuance.”

The bill states that, in the crafting of all emergency preparedness and response plans, the following should be taken into account:

· An assessment of the nature, likelihood, and potential magnitude of resulting damage, including the population and territory at risk from an accident, malicious act or incident;

· The results of any accident analyses and any lesson learned from experience and/or incidents and accidents that have occurred in connection with similar facilities or activities; and

· Coordination with off-site emergency preparedness and response plans.

All preparations for emergency preparedness and response plans for activities, facilities, practices or sources that could involve significant nuclear or radiological damage shall, under the bill, be coordinated with all relevant emergency intervention or response organizations.

HB 9293 directs the government to harness the peaceful, safe and secure use of atomic energy “to provide benefits to the Philippines in the fields of energy production, health and medicine, scientific research, agriculture, industry, education, and others.

It further mandates the use of nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes, “such that all facilities and activities related to the acquisition or development of nuclear explosives, radiological disspersal devices and other non-peaceful uses of nuclear or other radioactive material or technology, including assisting others, are strictly prohibited.”

To be headed by a Director-General, the proposed PhilATOM Council shall be tasked to: (1) assist the government in developing national policies and measures for controlling regulated activities and facilities; and (2) issue regulations, standards and guidelines necessary to implement this Act.

It shall also have to: (3) maintain a national register of radiation sources; (4) inspect, monitor and assess facilities and activities to verify compliance with this Act; (5) work on radioactive protection to protect people and the environment against the harmful impact of ionizing radiation; and (6) cooperate with the Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is the world’s center for cooperation in the nuclear field.

The bill empowers the duly authorized PhilATOM representatives and IAEA designed inspectors to gain access to any location or nuclear facility as provided for under the Safeguards Agreements, and to conduct verification activities as authorized under the Safeguards Agreements.

All agencies of our government and all other authorized parties are required to allow the PhilATOM and the IAEA to carry out any measures either the PhilATOM or the IAEA considers necessary or appropriate for achieving compliance with the commitments of the Philippines in the Safeguards Agreements.

The PhilATOM is mandated under the bill to “establish a system of control over radioactive sources and devices in which such sources are incorporated to ensure that they are safely managed and securely protected during their useful lives and at the end of their useful lives, in accordance with the recommendations and guidance of the International Commission on Radiological Protection and implementation of the relevant requirements of the IAEA.”

In the bill, “decommissioning” refers to the administrative and technical actions taken to allow the removal of some or all of the regulatory controls from a facility so the facility and its site can be reused; while “disposal” refers to the emplacement of waste in an appropriate facility without the intention of retrieval.

“HWR” refers to a thermal reactor that utilizes heavy water (deuterium oxide) as its coolant and moderator, such as CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium); while “LWR” refers to a thermal reactor that utilizes ordinary water as its coolant and moderator, including boiling water reactors (BWRs) and pressurized water reactor (PWRs).

Nuclear or atomic energy refers to any form of energy released in the course of nuclear fission, nuclear fusion or any other nuclear transmutation; while nuclear material refers to “plutonium except that with isotopic concentration exceeding eighty percent (80%) in plutonium-238, uranium-233, uranium enriched in the isotope 235 or 233, uranium containing the mixture of isotopes as occurring in nature other than in the form of ore or ore residue, any material containing one or more of the foregoing or any other material the PhilATOM determines should be classified as nuclear material.”

Radioactive material refers to a radioactive source, nuclear material, a substance that is capable of releasing nuclear energy or is required for the production or use of nuclear energy; a radioactive by-product of the development, production or use of nuclear energy, and any other material that the PhilATOM determines to be classified as radioactive material.

The bill requires the government to adhere to the Safeguards Agreements between our country and the IAEA in connection with the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was signed by over 40 countries, including the Philippines, in July 1968.

All electricity providers are authorized under the bill to collect a universal charge (UC) of a maximum of P0.005/kWh s from all electricity end-users, to be determined at the start of the fiscal year by the ERC in coordination with the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) based on the annual operational requirements of the PhilATOM, subject to the evaluation of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to complete the maximum P0.005/kWh equivalent UC collection annual budget of the PhilATOM.

The bill states that this Fund shall be administered by the National Transmission Corp. (TransCo), provided that the imposition of the UC shall in no case exceed 10 years from the date of effectivity of this Act.

As administrator of the fund, the TransCo is directed by the bill to create a special trust fund with the DBP, which shall be automatically released to the PhilATOM every 15th day of the month following its collection.

The PhilATOM shall make use of this Fund for (1) the construction of buildings or acquisition of office and laboratory space, (2) human resource development and expansion, including the hiring of local or foreign consultants; (3) purchase of equipment and motor vehicles, (5) upgrading of its facilities, equipment and maintenance, and for (6) its other operating expense in the performance of its mandate to ensure adequate protection to the public and the environment.

The PhilATOM’s fund disbursements shall be subject to the general accounting rules and guidelines of the Commission on Audit (COA).

This Office shall submit to the DBM Secretary and the Congressional Oversight Committee (COC), to be created under this Act, a report on its collections and how such funds were utilized, including the accomplishments.

Under the bill, the PhilATOM is authorized, in times of national emergency when public interest so requires and, as a measure of last resort, to “temporarily suspend, take over or direct the operation of any nuclear facility or the conduct of any nuclear activity or other radioactive material or regulated facility during such emergency and under reasonable terms as may be required under the circumstances.”