MANILA – A three-day international conference on the prospects of nuclear power in the Asia-Pacific region has wrapped up in Manila, finding the stigma-laden source of energy to be increasingly relevant in the region because of its continuing development and rising population, and the growing campaign for lowering carbon emissions amid threats of climate change.
“The prospects for nuclear power in the Asia-Pacific region are not only promising. Moreover, it is relevant and will continue to remain so in the coming years,” Maria Zeneida Collinson of the Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Department, who chaired the conference, said in her summary statement late Thursday.
“Nuclear energy could contribute to sustainable development by meeting rising energy demands and, at the same time, mitigating climate change,” she added.
The conference, which was organized mainly by the International Atomic Energy Agency, gathered more than 60 participants from 15 countries.
Among the topics discussed was the role of nuclear energy in a low carbon future, how to develop a nuclear energy policy and the legal framework for nuclear power, the prospects of small modular reactors in the region, developing a policy and strategy for spent fuel and radioactive waste management, and developing the environmental impact assessment process.
“A high nuclear scenario in the Asia-Pacific takes into account more potential newcomer states such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, in addition to Vietnam,” Collinson said.
Of the 30 countries in the world that currently operate nuclear power plants, six are in the Asia-Pacific region: China, India, Iran, Japan, Pakistan and South Korea.
“This Asia-Pacific region has one of the fastest economic and growth rates in the world. Hence, it follows that the demand for affordable and sustainable energy sources is expected to rise. Thus, as IAEA Deputy Director-General Mikhail Chudakov pointed out, our region is expected to be the driver of nuclear energy in the future,” Collinson said.
In an interview at the opening of the conference on Tuesday, Chudakov said the prospects of nuclear power remain high despite the nuclear accidents of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, with 10 plants put into operation last year, and the same number expected to run also this year.
Collinson said the conference touched on these accidents by learning lessons from them.
“No one country can just start creating nuclear power because, especially after the accidents of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, (it showed) that the whole world is connected,” Chudakov said in his closing remarks Thursday.
Collinson said the conference revealed that the key challenges to the development of a high nuclear scenario in the region are public acceptance and safety concerns, nuclear waste issues, large up-front investment, and uncertainty in government support.
Citing as one example the revived interest of the Philippine government under the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in nuclear power, having built one plant in the 1970s only to be mothballed when it was ready for licensing a decade later due to politics and fears caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, Collinson said Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi is now actively holding public discussions about the matter.
“For me, the most important is that understanding by our people about what nuclear energy, nuclear power is all about. Having understood that, we can form our own opinion as to whether we really want this, will this be good for the Philippine nation. So, that’s No. 1: public acceptance,” Collinson said.
Chudakov said some of the advantages of nuclear power are the reliability of supply, and predictability of price over a long period, something that former Philippine Energy Secretary Zenaida Monsada acknowledged.
“If we pursue the nuclear power plant project, we would have increased investments in the country, that will generate jobs and government revenue. If we have more sufficient, reliable power, we can have more investments in manufacturing that will help improve the economy,” Monsada said at the closing session of the conference.
Chudakov said that while the decision to put up nuclear power plants is a sovereign one, the IAEA stands ready to assist in the undertaking.
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