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US, PH ink historic ‘123’ nuke power agreement

ENERGY PACT. President Marcos (left) and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink (right) witness the signing of the ‘123’ deal that would allow the transfer of US-origin nuclear technology to the Philippines, signed by Energy Secretary Raphael Lotolilla (seated left) for the PH and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for the US. MPC Photo
Alena Mae S. Flores, Charles Dantes, Rey E. Requejo, Darwin G. Amojelar & Julito G. Rada

The United States on Thursday signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Philippines, clearing a path for US investments to jump-start atomic power in a country racing to expand its electricity supply.

President Marcos, who has become a close US ally in his more than one year in power, was on hand when Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla signed the pact with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco.

“We see nuclear energy becoming a part of the Philippine energy mix by 2032 and we will be more than happy to pursue this path with the United States as one of our partners,” Marcos said.

“Nuclear energy is one area where we can show that the Philippines-US alliance and partnership truly works for our peoples, our economies, and the environment,” he added.

Marcos said he was fulfilling an earlier pledge to build “affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy supply for the entire country in order to meet our growing energy demands.”

The deal signed with Blinken commits the Philippines to safeguards against the use of transferred nuclear material to produce nuclear weapons.

Known as “123” agreements after their section in the US Atomic Energy Act, the pacts are critical for investment by US nuclear companies, which are wary of running afoul of laws related to proliferation.

US Vice President Kamala Harris announced the start of negotiations for a 123 agreement during a November 2022 visit to the Philippines.

Blinken said the one-year completion was the fastest ever for a 123 agreement.

President Marcos expressed his gratitude for the swift conclusion ofthe agreement, emphasizing its pivotal role in bolstering the Philippines’ energy security and environmental sustainability.

“The signing of the Philippines-United States Agreement forCooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, or the 123 Agreement, is the first major step in this regard, taking our cooperation on capacity building further and actually opening the doors for US companies to invest and participate in nuclear power projects in the country,” President Marcos said.

The United States in recent years has enthusiastically embracednuclear power as a reliable and carbon-free form of electricity, rejecting environmentalists’ concerns about the risk of accidents.

“As peak energy demands are expected to nearly quadruple in the Philippines by 2040, nuclear power can consistently produce enough energy to meet the community’s critical needs without emitting more greenhouse gases,” Blinken said.

The Philippines already has some of the region’s highest energy costsand faces a looming crisis as the Malampaya gas field, which supplies about 40 percent of power to the archipelago’s main island Luzon, is expected to run dry within a few years.

As part of its climate goals, the Philippines also aims for renewable energy —not including nuclear—to make up 35 percent of power generation by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040.

With access to US material and equipment, the Philippines and the US will be able to work together to deploy advanced new technologies, including small modular reactors, to support climate goals as well as critical energy security and base load power needs within the Philippines.

The US Department of State emphasized that the signing marks the successful culmination of the negotiation process launched by Harris during her trip to the Philippines in November 2022.

The 123 Agreement will allow the transfer of information, nuclear material, equipment, and components directly between the Philippines and the US or through authorized persons to engage in transfer activities, which will support potential nuclear power projects with US providers.

The agreement will also pave the way for streamlining the licensing requirements for the private sector with respect to investments on nuclear-related intangible transfers of technology.

Lotilla said the signing “is reflective of an enduring cooperative effort between the Philippines and the US on harnessing civilian nuclear power for sustainable development.”

He said that from the time the Philippines under President Ramon Magsaysay joined in 1955 the Atoms for Peace Program initiated by US President Dwight Eisenhower until the current Marcos leadership, the two countries have manifested the intention of the two countries to enhance the level of cooperation and strengthen partnership across the spectrum of nuclear energy applications both for power and non-power uses.”

“Beyond nuclear power applications to combat climate change, the new agreement facilitates cooperation in a wide array of other peaceful uses of atomic energy — all supportive of various Sustainable Development Goals — including plant breeding, livestock production, insect pest control, soil and crop management, water use efficiency, plastic waste disposal, food safety, health and medicine,” Lotilla said.

Negotiations for the 123 Agreement, which took about seven months, were led by Department of Energy Undersecretary Sharon Garin and US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ann Ganzer.

The President noted that apart from the 123 nuclear deal, Meralco and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. also signed a cooperation agreement to undertake a pre-feasibility study on micro-modular reactors (MMRs) to explore clean and sustainable energy options in the country.

“I look forward to seeing this agreement in action in the years to come,” he said.

In other developments:

* Transport Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said the Philippines is wooing American businesses to invest in big-ticket transport infrastructure projects in the Philippines, such as the privatization of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, construction of a new Manila International Airport and the modernization of 11 regional airports. “Our transport projects highlight the efforts of our government in pushing the infrastructure agenda of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who wants us to improve mobility and connectivity,” Bautista said. He said that 11 transport projects were recently approved with an estimated total project cost of $6.6 billion. Out of the 11 projects, eight are foreign-assisted, while the rest are funded through public-private partnerships, he said. Plans are also being finalized for at least 29 foreign-assisted contract packages as part of big-ticket infrastructure projects, he said.

* National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the government is looking at several infrastructure projects that can be financed through the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF). Although he did not give the details of these infrastructure projects, he said these were mostly based in urban areas that could potentially give a substantial return on investments for MIF. President Marcos earlier said 80 infrastructure projects have already been identified for possible MIF financing. With AFP

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