Philippines considers deploying USNC microreactors

16 November 2023

The Philippines' largest electric distribution utility, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), has signed a cooperation agreement with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) of the USA to study the potential deployment of one or more Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy Systems in the Philippines.

The signing of the agreement between USNC and Meralco (Image: USNC)

The agreement was signed by Meralco Chairman and CEO Manuel Pangilinan and USNC Founder and CEO Francesco Venneri on the sidelines of the 30th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Summit in San Francisco. The signing was witnessed by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

Under the agreement - which builds on the partnership between the two companies announced in August - USNC will conduct a pre-feasibility study that will run for four months to familiarise Meralco with MMR systems and how these can be effectively utilised in the Philippines. Depending on the results of the pre-feasibility study, Meralco has the option to conduct a more detailed feasibility study with a focus on the adoption and deployment of MMR energy systems.

USNC said the study will help Meralco in critical decisions and potential future activities on project-specific studies and project development plans at identified sites. The study will assess financial, technical, safety, and siting, among other considerations.

The MMR is a 45 MW thermal, 15 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, using TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel in prismatic graphite blocks. The graphite blocks contain stacks of ceramic FCM fuel pellets. The helium-cooled reactor can be flexibly fuelled with uranium enrichments from 9% to 19.75% and will have an initial licensed nuclear plant lifetime of 40-years.

"USNC is changing the nuclear safety and national energy security conversations in the Philippines with the MMR," Pangilinan said, adding: "This cooperative agreement moves us forward with a partner who understands these important issues alongside the essential nature of the cost and reliability of the electricity supply."

"This also signifies the commitment of the Philippines, through Meralco, to explore and utilise diverse energy sources for the benefit of Filipinos. We believe that nuclear technology will help balance the need to meet the growing demand of our country with the equally crucial need to transition towards a sustainable energy future," he said.

Venneri said: "Meralco is demonstrating real leadership in advancing the energy security and sustainability roadmap for the Philippines. Our MMR nuclear batteries can play a major role in delivering those benefits. The plans that will quickly follow this study place Meralco well on the way toward creating a reliable, low-carbon, equitable and secure future for Filipinos."

President Marcos welcomed the agreement, saying the "partnership is a significant step towards exploring clean and sustainable energy options for the Philippines". He added that the agreement "is aligned with our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resilience to climate change".

In response to the 1973 oil crisis, the Philippines decided to build the two-unit Bataan plant. Construction of Bataan 1 - a 621 MWe Westinghouse PWR - began in 1976 and it was completed in 1984 at a cost of USD460 million. However, due to financial issues and safety concerns related to earthquakes, the plant was never loaded with fuel or operated. The plant has been maintained.

In March 2022, then President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order that outlined the government's position for the inclusion of nuclear energy in the Philippines' energy mix, taking into account economic, political, social and environmental objectives. President Marcos included new nuclear among his campaign pledges before winning the election in May last year.

123 Agreement concluded

Also on the sidelines of the APEC Leaders' Summit, US Vice President Kamala Harris met with President Marcos, where they discussed ongoing efforts to deepen security ties and expand commercial and economic cooperation between the two countries.

During the meeting, Harris and Marcos "welcomed the conclusion of a historic '123' civil nuclear cooperation agreement", according to a statement from the White House. It said the agreement "will deepen our partnership to build a global clean energy economy and strengthen our shared commitment to improving energy security and advancing the global non-proliferation regime".

Negotiations on the 123 Agreement were launched in November 2022 during a visit by Harris to the Philippines.

Formal cooperation agreements are required between countries that want to trade nuclear power goods and services, and those involving the USA are called 123 Agreements after the paragraph of the country's 1954 Atomic Energy Act which requires them.

"This agreement will provide the legal basis for US exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines, which will support American workers and businesses," the White House said. 

Researched and written by World Nuclear News