Philippine leader wary of nuclear energy over safety issues

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said it’s unlikely his country will adopt nuclear energy during his six-year term because of safety concerns.

Duterte said nuclear energy remains an important option in the future, but the Philippines needs to undertake a study and put “really tight safeguards” in place.

“Not, maybe, during my presidency. … Not now because we have to come up with safeguards, really, really tight safeguards, to assure that there will be no disasters if there is a nuclear leak or explosion,” Duterte said late Tuesday in response to a reporter’s question about his view of nuclear energy.

Proponents argue that nuclear energy would lessen the country’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels and help the economy take off. Critics, however, are concerned about safety in a country crisscrossed by seismic fault lines with a history of destructive earthquakes.

Construction of the Philippines’ first nuclear power plant began in 1977 under dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Bataan province about 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Manila. The plant was completed in 1985, but in early 1986 then President Corazon Aquino ordered it mothballed because of safety concerns and allegations that its builder, Westinghouse Electric Corp., had bribed Marcos through a local businessman to win the contract. The plant was allegedly constructed near a fault line and a dormant volcano.

The plant cost the government more than $2 billion, considerably increasing the country’s foreign debt.