US, Philippines to train Filipinos to build and operate nuclear power plants

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The Philippines and the United States agreed Tuesday to train Filipinos how to build and operate nuclear power plants, as the Southeast Asian country seeks to boost its electricity supply.

The announcement comes after Manila and Washington struck a nuclear cooperation agreement in November that cleared a path for US investment to jumpstart atomic power in the energy-hungry Philippines.

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Under Tuesday’s deal, the Philippine Department of Energy and the Philippine-American Educational Foundation will offer scholarships and exchange programs for Filipinos to learn about civil nuclear power and renewable energy.

“This will help the Philippines develop the skilled workforce needed to build a clean energy infrastructure, including the ability to operate state of the art nuclear power plants,” Daniel Kritenbrink, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told a trade forum in Manila.

Philippine Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said the “advanced training” will ensure the country has the “human resources that are needed” for the sector.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos has signaled determination to adopt nuclear power in the country and has even flagged the possibility of reviving a mothballed $2.2 billion plant built during his father’s dictatorship.

The deal signed in November on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in San Francisco committed 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.

The United States also plans to set up a civil nuclear industry working group for Southeast Asia based in Manila.

The group will “connect Philippine partners with US companies”, helping to “accelerate the Philippines transition to clean and safe nuclear energy,” Kritenbrink said.

The Philippines -- regularly affected by electricity outages -- relies on imported carbon-belching coal for more than half of its power generation.

It has some of the region’s highest energy costs and 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 aims for renewable energy -- not including nuclear -- to make up 50 percent of its power generation by 2040.

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