THE approval of a proposed policy pushing for nuclear energy has been relegated to a lower priority as the government focuses on containing the public health and economic fallout from the pandemic, officials said.

Energy Undersecretary William Felix B. Fuentebella said the government is fully focused on arresting the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Di siya masyadong nabigyan ng highlight kasi ang tutok ng buong government (sa) COVID (The nuclear policy is not a priority because the government’s focus is on fighting COVID),” he said.

Separately, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi told reporters that the Department of Energy is still waiting for the approval of President Rodrigo R. Duterte of its proposed executive order pushing for the establishment of nuclear power infrastructure, which it submitted on Feb. 20.

The department wanted the regulatory and legal framework for nuclear power, along with the national policy, to be approved within the present government’s term due to the long gestation period for building nuclear power plants.

“That’s why we ask again that we have to act on it. We won’t be able to do it during this administration but we would like to make sure that the groundwork is completed,” Mr. Cusi said.

Currently, the country’s energy mix includes hydro, solar, wind, biomass, natural gas, geothermal, oil, and coal.

Adding nuclear energy was deemed important due to uncertainty in the energy market, Mr. Cusi said.

Pwede naman ang coal, ‘di ba? (Coal is available, right?) But that can also be disrupted if, let say, a country stops supplying us coal. Just like us, if we stop exporting coal to our clients, they will (also) be affected,” he explained.

Mabuti meron tayong LNG (liquefied natural gas), meron tayong hydro, meron tayo ng lahat ng renewables (It’s a good thing we have LNG, hydro and all sorts of renewables), but we need also reliable, dependable baseload,” he said said.

Nuclear power plants are positioned as helping fill in the gap for baseload power, which are plants operating full-time to service the so-called base load of power demand, as opposed to other plants tapped to operate at peak demand only. Baseload plants typically cost the least to operate while peaking plants are more expensive.

Power demand fell 20%-30% during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), marked by a plunge in industrial use while residential consumption rose 40% with many workers staying at home. — Adam J. Ang