Meralco: 14 areas eyed for nuclear plant demo

MANILA Electric Co. (Meralco) and the Department of Energy (DoE) are considering 14 areas around the Philippines as the likely site of a proof-of-concept small nuclear power plant, an official of the power distribution firm said.

Meralco last week inked a deal with American firm Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. (USNC) to study the deployment of small nuclear reactors, also called fission or nuclear “batteries,” as a means of addressing rising energy demand in the Philippines.

“The work has already begun as we have been exchanging notes and information with the US on this,” Meralco Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Ronnie L. Aperocho told reporters on Monday.

“As for the possible sites for the proof-of-concept (POC) plant, we are aligning with the DoE because they are eyeing 14 sites to construct this,” he added.

Energy department officials were not immediately available for comment.

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Under the deal with USNC, the American firm will conduct a four-month pre-feasibility study to familiarize Meralco with the former’s Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy Systems — modular units that can be linked together like batteries to provide as much power as needed.

The technology, which is being licensed in the United States and Canada, is yet to be commercialized. USMC states that demonstration units will be deployed in 2026.

Aperocho indicated that Meralco was ready to move past the pre-feasibility study, saying that “after that, we have to decide on what to do next, but most definitely we will proceed with the full study.”

“The stars really aligned with us on this business venture,” he added.

Meralco Chairman and CEO Manny Pangilinan said that “as for the next step, I believe we spoke with them about whether we could buy a modular plant proof of concept here which we could employ.”

“The planned plant is only small, maybe around 1 or 2 megawatts (MW),” he added.

“For this technology, I think it can only be put up under certain geologic conditions, so let’s wait for the [study] results first,” Pangilinan continued.

“But I definitely know one could disperse the deployment of modular technology in an archipelago like the Philippines so you don’t have to build conventional power plants that are big to achieve economies of scale,” he added.

Under then-President Ferdinand Marcos, construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) started in the 1970s in the wake of a global oil crisis. The facility, however, was never commissioned due to safety concerns and a host of problems, including allegations of massive corruption.

With energy costs again having surged due to geopolitical issues, the government of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is pushing for the revival of a nuclear power program, including the possible rehabilitation of the mothballed BNPP.

USNC, said to have been founded in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, claims that its modular nuclear reactors are safe.

“The MMR reactor is a walk-away, safe-power reactor. In the case of an accident, the MMR reactor cannot melt down as any heat dissipates passively into the environment,” the company has claimed.

Meralco’s share price was down 1.11 percent, or P4.20, on Tuesday to P373 amid a 0.41-percent gain for the benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange index.