US Vice-President Kamala Harris speaks about empowerment of women and girls during a town hall meeting at a hotel in Pasay City, Nov. 21. — PHILIPPINE STAR/KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE United States and the Philippines are set to launch negotiations on a civil nuclear energy agreement, US Vice-President Kamala Harris said on Monday.

According to a fact sheet sent by the US embassy in the Philippines, the US and Philippines have opened talks on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement “to support expanded cooperation on zero-emission energy and nonproliferation priorities.”

“Once in force, this agreement will provide the legal basis for US exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines. United States is committed to working with the Philippines to increase energy security and deploying advanced nuclear reactor technology as quickly as safety and security conditions permit to meet the Philippines’ dire baseload power needs,” the US embassy said.

Ms. Harris is currently in the Philippines as part of a trip to bolster economic and security ties with key Asian countries. She met with President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio on Monday.

Also known as the “123 Agreement,” the US embassy said it would help both countries achieve their energy security and climate goals, as well as provide commercial opportunities for the private sector.

The 123 Agreement consists of arrangements to ensure that civil nuclear energy cooperation is protected against nuclear weapons proliferation. It is also the basis of the US National Security Act that requires such arrangement to be in place before it can proceed with the civil cooperation.

Mr. Marcos has previously said it is time for the Philippines to re-examine its strategy towards building nuclear power plants, noting that the country’s current energy demand far exceeds its supply.

“In the area of nuclear power, there have been new technologies developed that allow smaller scale modular nuclear plants and other derivations thereof. Once again, PPPs (public-private partnerships) will play a part in support as funding in this period is limited,” Mr. Marcos said in his first State of the Nation Address in July.

Last week, Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla urged the National Power Corp. (Napocor) to consider tapping modular nuclear reactors to supply electricity to remote areas.

Philippine Nuclear Research Institute Senior Research Specialist Unico A. Bautista said the Philippines still has many infrastructure issues that need to be addressed before it can start building nuclear power plants.

“We still don’t have a nuclear power program, so we’re still in the preparation stage,” he told BusinessWorld in a mix of English and Filipino in a phone call. Among the areas that need further development in the Philippines include radioactive waste management, procurement process, among others.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy, US State Department and Philippine Department of Energy will also establish an Energy Policy Dialogue, “a high-level platform for the two nations to develop new forms of energy cooperation, including on short and long-term energy planning, offshore wind development, and grid stability and power transmission,” the US embassy said.

The US will also team up with Lopez-led Energy Development Corp. (EDC) to develop a geothermal project in Mindanao.

The US Trade and Development Agency will open an office in the US embassy in Manila that would assist American firms in investing in the country, particularly energy and infrastructure.

The US Department of Agriculture will also establish a food security dialogue with Philippine counterparts to allow both countries to work on resilient food systems and discuss best practices for agricultural innovation and sustainability.

The US International Development Finance Corp. (DFC) is also set to issue a $20-million loan for Agri Exim Global Philippines, Inc., a local processor of organic coconuts into derivative products, to expand its processing facilities.

The US embassy said the United States is planning to partner with listed Philippine company Now Telecom for the deployment of 5G technologies in the country.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is also backing the launch of the first Low Earth Orbit Satellite Broadband Service in Southeast Asia, in partnership with SpaceX Starlink, in the Philippines.

USAID is also launching initiatives to support small and medium enterprises and women entrepreneurs, as well as training workers for the high-tech manufacturing sector.