Makabayan solon wary of US-PH nuclear energy talks: Filipinos might be ‘guinea pigs’
MANILA, Philippines —Negotiations between the United States and the Philippines over a vital nuclear energy cooperation deal have raised worries in the House of Representatives, with one lawmaker suggesting that Filipinos could be used as guinea pigs for testing technologies.
According to Makabayan bloc member and Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. France Castro, the so-called “123 Agreement” launched along with US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Manila might pose more dangers than advantages to the Philippines.
The 123 Agreement is a deal that the US enters with allies — based on Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act — which disallows partner countries from using the partnerships for nuclear energy to create nuclear weapons.
“Ang mahirap dito baka tayong mga mamamayang Pilipino ang ma-123 at maging mga guinea pigs ng teknolohiyang ito na tinetesting pa lang ng US,” Castro said on Monday.
(But the problem here is that Filipinos may be on the losing end and be tricked into becoming guinea pigs for this technology that is in the testing stage in the US.)
Castro claimed that if the US goes on to have a 123 Agreement with the Philippines, the superpower will assist the country in creating modular nuclear reactors or microreactors to help the country in addressing the power shortage.
The problem with these microreactors, the lawmaker said, is that they are still in an experimental stage and are only legally made in US bases.
“As it is, modular or microreactor nuclear power plants are still at an experimental stage and are only legally being made in US bases. Early this year, the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office announced the construction and testing decision that followed the office’s Environmental Impact Statement work for ‘Project Pele,’” Castro said.
“According to Military Times, Professor Alan J. Kuperman, coordinator of the University of Texas at Austin’s Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project and authored a 21-page report on the Pentagon’s program in 2021 titled, ‘Proposed U.S. Army Mobile Nuclear Reactors: Costs and Risks Outweigh Benefits’, along with members of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists expressed serious concern on microreactors, and even the Army said that such microreactors could ‘not be expected to survive a direct kinetic attack,’” she added.
According to the US Department of Energy, small modular reactors (SMRs) offer many advantages compared to conventional reactors, as it requires lesser funding and may be set up in “locations not possible for larger nuclear plants, and provisions for incremental power additions.”
They also claimed that SMRs are generally safe.
A senior US official who spoke in anonymity after Harris’ arrival in Manila last Sunday said it is important that the Philippines and US start talks on the 123 Agreement so that the US can provide exports of nuclear material and equipment.
In a fact sheet released on the same day, Harris’ office said the start of the 123 Agreement negotiations signifies that the US is committed to addressing the Philippines’ energy problems.
But Castro said that such experimental methods pose high risks of leaks and possible meltdowns.
“Mahirap talaga ang ganitong teknolohiya labas pa sa nuclear leaks na maaring mangyari lalo pa sa gagamitin nilang ‘high-temperature gas reactor’, and its fuel source, known as high-assay low enriched uranium tristructural isotropic fuel pellets ay kayang magkalat ng radioactivity sa malawak na lugar at maaaring pumatay sa mamamayan, mga hayop at mga puno, icocontaminate din nito ang kalupaan,” she said.
(It is really hard to rely on these technologies without even considering the nuclear leaks that may happen, especially with the use of a ‘high-temperature gas reactor’, and its fuel source, known as high-assay low-enriched uranium tristructural isotropic fuel pellets, which can spread radioactivity over a wide area and may kill people, animals, plants, and contaminate the land.)
“Dapat talagang tutulan ang modular nuclear plants na ito dahil napakadelikado sa ating bansa,” she added.
(We should stand against these modular nuclear plants because this is dangerous for the country.)
Philippine officials in recent months have appeared to be leaning towards nuclear energy in hopes of solving the country’s electricity woes. However, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in his State of the Nation Address last July 25 that it might be time for the Philippines to reexamine the state policy on nuclear energy.
Then during the recently-concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, Marcos implied that he is willing to partner with France regarding nuclear energy, citing its long experience in the said field.
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