Duterte dials Russia for nuclear power future

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 19 2017 05:33 PM | Updated as of Jun 19 2017 08:56 PM

MOSCOW -  (UPDATE) A discolored telephone, the direct line to the president of the Philippines, sits unused in the nerve center of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), which has become a monument to the country's decades-old atomic energy ambition.

President Rodrigo Duterte is bringing the Philippines closer to tapping nuclear power than any of his immediate predecessors by dialing Russia, which is offering its technology to the world.

Duterte's government forged an agreement with the Russian State Atomic Energy Corp. (ROSATOM) for the possible development of nuclear infrastructure, personnel training, and courting public support for the technology following his visit to Moscow last month.

Russia also offered to supply the Philippines with nuclear power barges and capsules.

ROSATOM on Monday opened an showcase of Russian nuclear technology, hoping to attract new clients from around the world, including the Philippines.

"We want to cooperate and be partners" said Sergey Kirienko, first deputy chief in the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We can not only provide energy, we can provide impetus for the development of science and technology," Kirienko said.

Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta last month acknowledged Russia as a "major power" in energy.

Last year, Duterte ordered a study on the possibility of reopening the American-built Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which cost $2 billion to build.

Commissioned by former President Ferdinand Marcos, the 620MW plant came with the promise of steady and cheap power, until its opening was scuttled by domestic and global events.

The world's worst nuclear accident hit Chernobyl, Ukraine in April 1986, just two months after a military-backed uprising toppled Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino, the widow of martyred Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., as president.

Environment groups have repeatedly raised concerns over the safety of the plant, which fronts Manila Bay. Officials, however argue, that the plant is strong enough to withstand impact from a Boeing 747.

But the brightly-colored dials and gauges in Bataan are clearly decades behind compared to those showcased in the world's largest nuclear power expo in Moscow on Monday.

The new technologies, which include 3D printing, promise to increase capacity, cut costs through automation, and extend the lifespan of nuclear plants.

Project financing is the biggest concern of developing economies that seek to tap nuclear power, said Iliya Rebrov, economic and finance director at ROSATOM.

Rebrov said ROSATOM helps its clients secure funding from various sources, including loans.

"The key competitive factor is the ability of the contractor to arrange financing," Rebrov said, citing a recent wind-farm project in southern Russia that was financed with Gazprombank.

ROSATOM is "very confident" in the world market as it diversifies its offerings to meet growing demand, said Kirill Komarov, the company's First Deputy Director general for corporate development and international business.