Meralco to study use of nuclear ‘batteries’

MANILA Electric Co. (Meralco) has inked a deal with a US company to study the deployment of small nuclear reactors, also called fission or nuclear “batteries,” as a means of addressing rising energy demand in the Philippines.

The agreement with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. (USNC) was signed at the sidelines of the ongoing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in California, the company announced on Thursday.

USNC, said to have been founded in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, will conduct a four-month pre-feasibility study to familiarize Meralco with its Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy Systems.

Unlike massive traditional reactors, the MMR system is small with an output of 3.5 to 15 megawatts. Being modular, units can be linked together like batteries to provide as much power as needed, USNC states on its website.

The system uses FCM, or fully ceramic micro-encapsulated fuel, which is composed of uranium grains that are covered with silicon carbide. In a 2019 presentation, USMC claimed that FCM is “safe under all operating and accident conditions.”

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“The MMR reactor is a walk-away, safe-power reactor. In the case of an accident, the MMR reactor cannot melt down as any heat dissipates passively into the environment,” the company also said.

The technology, which is being licensed in the United States and Canada, is yet to be commercialized. USMC states that demonstration units will be deployed in 2026.

Depending on the results of the pre-feasibility study, Meralco can decide to pursue a more detailed review with a view to adopting and deploying MMR systems in the country.

Meralco Chairman Manuel Pangilinan, who signed the deal with USNC Chief Executive Officer Francesco Venneri, said the US firm was “changing the nuclear safety and energy security conversations in the Philippines ….”

“This agreement moves us forward with a partner who understands these important issues alongside the essential nature of the cost and reliability of the electricity supply,” he added.

“This also signifies the commitment of Meralco to explore and utilize diverse energy sources for the benefit of Filipinos. Nuclear technology should be able to help us meet our country’s growing demand for energy and transition toward a sustainable energy future.”

Venneri, for his part, said “Meralco is demonstrating real leadership in advancing the energy security and sustainability road map for the Philippines.”

“Our MMR nuclear batteries can play a major role in delivering those benefits. The plans that will quickly follow this study place Meralco well on the way toward creating a reliable, low-carbon, equitable and secure future for Filipinos.”

Meralco said the initiative was part of its long-term sustainability strategy and a push to include nuclear energy in the country’s energy mix.

A nuclear power plant was built by the government in the 70s but never became operational due to safety concerns. The Energy department has said that it was considering a revival of the country’s nuclear power program.