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MANILA: The Philippines announced on Thursday it will develop a nuclear power program to include atomic power in its energy mix, as it prepares for a phaseout of coal-fired power plants.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order approving the program on Feb. 28. Released on Thursday, the policy aims to ensure affordable electricity in a country that regularly suffers power outages and where tariffs are high.

“The national government commits to the introduction of nuclear power energy into the State’s energy mix for power generation,” the order said.

“The State envisions nuclear power as a viable alternative baseload power source along with alternative energy resources, to address the projected decline of coal-fired power plants.”

Coal is the main source of electricity in the Philippines, accounting for more than half of the country’s power generation.

Authorities expect nuclear energy to help meet the Philippines’ increasing energy demand, with the country projected to require an additional 68 GW by 2040.

“For the country to achieve its sustained growth targets, it must ensure that it has a reliable, secure, sustainable, quality and affordable electricity supply, including sufficient reserve to guarantee that there will be no disruptions in the power supply,” the order said.

Signed three months before Duterte ends his single six-year term, the order also directs an inter-agency panel to look into reopening the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, the country’s first and only power plant built in 1986.

The plant was never used and was closed due to safety concerns following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in April 1986.

“This policy is the start of the national nuclear power program,” Department of Energy Undersecretary Gerardo Erguiza said at a press conference.

“Adopting a nuclear program is not just about constructing nuclear power plants. It is a matter of energy and national security,” he added.

But the policy is already attracting criticism.

“Nuclear is the most dangerous and most expensive source of electricity and is the last thing the Filipino people need at a time when we are already deep in debt and trying to recover from a major health crisis,” Greenpeace energy transition campaigner Khevin Yu said in a statement, referring to the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

“The Duterte administration is about to leave a tarred legacy and is setting us up for another horror story like Chernobyl and Fukushima.”

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011. It was the most severe nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster.

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