In a meeting with South Korea’s special envoy early this month, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. expressed keen interest in nuclear power to avert a looming power crisis.

Marcos even asked the South Koreans to send experts to the country and inspect and assess the feasibility of reopening the mothballed 620-megawatt (MW) Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), a controversial political issue during the Cory administration in the late 1980s.

The BNPP’s structure was well preserved but the nuclear reactor was never operated because of safety and political issues, including corruption. The Philippines had fully paid for a nuclear power plant that was never used.

Countries around the world are taking a second look at nuclear energy to power industries and homes because of the rising costs of fossil fuels as well as the environmental issues.

To stop global warming, countries have also agreed to cut back on carbon footprint by pushing for the use of renewable energy, like solar, wind, and nuclear power.

Nuclear power reactors produce huge amounts of reliable, low-cost, and low-carbon electricity. After Fukushima, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered the industry minister to restart nine nuclear power plants as it imports 90 percent of its energy resources to generate electricity.

The United States, Europe, China and South Korea also operate nuclear power plants. There are two nuclear power plants in South Korea that are identical with the BNPP.

During the time of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Pangasinan congressman Mark Cojuangco suggested reviving BNPP with the help of the South Koreans.

At that time, the cost of putting the BNPP back online was about $1 billion, but it may cost more now due to inflation. Reviving the BNPP remains an option.

The Marcos administration has been seriously looking at the nuclear option. The country’s power requirements will certainly grow as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

About 60 percent of the country’s power requirements are dependent on coal. More than 90 percent of the dirty coal used by power plants across the country comes from neighboring Indonesia.

There was a time when coal supply was tight when Islamist militants Abu Sayyaf harassed and kidnapped the crew of tugboats transporting coal from Indonesia in the Sulu Sea.

The Philippines is also highly dependent on natural gas. The Malampaya gas field in Palawan may dry up soon, and the government under Rodrigo Duterte did nothing to explore and extract oil-and-gas in the last six years in the West Philippine Sea.

It takes about a decade to develop an oil-and-gas field and the country has lost time and opportunity when the Duterte administration entered into a joint venture agreement with China for oil-and-gas exploration in the Reed Bank.

Carlo Arcilla, head of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute at the University of the Philippines, has found a cheaper and faster way to increase power capacity, suggesting the country look into small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).

The SMRs can be built once there are definite orders, and can be installed easily in islands in the country tha are not connected with the power grids, like Palawan, Panay, Bohol and Siquijor.

The SMRs can fit into a 20-wheeler truck and can be moved around easily but away from populated communities, and can generate at least 70 MW. If an island requires about 300 MW, three or four SMRs can be clustered together. Handling nuclear wastes will also not be a problem because small holes can be drilled to dispose of them.

SMRs are well-suited for supplying electricity to hard-to-reach islands and regions as well as serving smaller grids and industrial centers.

The first two SMRs, mounted on a barge with a combined capacity of 64 MW, were operated in Pevek, a small Arctic coastal town in Russia in early 2000.

China has also started building SMRs with a bigger capacity of 200 MW, but Arcilla said the best SMR designs are made by an American company, the Oregon-based NuScale and the South Korean’s Doosan Enerbility smart reactors.

NuScale builds SMRs with 60 MW capacity. Doosan has won contracts to build four SMRs in the United Arab Emirates.

Arcilla said he had no idea how much the SMRs would cost but it would be much better than large reactors which take time to build and could possibly have supply chain issues.

Marcos Jr. should consider low-carbon SMR technology to increase the country’s power capacity faster and cheaper. Russia, China, the US, and South Korea could help the Philippines develop and install the first SMR in Southeast Asia.

SMRs would probably avert the potential power crisis and avoid the costly and time-consuming oil-and-gas exploration, heavy reliance on coal, and the construction of the outdated and large nuclear reactors.