, JUNE 11, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang confirmed yesterday government efforts to put up nuclear power plants in the country, but said these efforts are part of a long-term program that will take several years to accomplish.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the preparation for nuclear energy use in the Philippines is meant to keep the country abreast of the trend among countries in the region to tap nuclear energy “as a viable alternative.”

Bunye also said the plan for putting up nuclear power plants has “a long gestation period.” He gave assurances that the latest technology will enable the use of nuclear energy in a safer manner than it was used 20 years ago.

“If you are thinking of 2010, that (putting up nuclear power plants) will clearly not happen,” Bunye said.

“But the Philippines and other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries are now more open to taking a second look at nuclear energy as a viable alternative – as indicated in the last East Asian summit,” he said, referring to the summits held in Cebu in January and attended by heads of state from Asean member-countries and Japan, South Korea and China.

He said that, 20 years after the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl plant in the former Soviet Union, “new safe and clean technologies have been discovered.”

Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Secretary Cerge Remonde said the nuclear program of the government is meant to enable the Philippines to cope with rising world oil prices and involves long-term planning.

Remonde said the training of experts and engineers to run the power plants would take 15 years.

Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said the list of reported prospective nuclear power plant sites was taken from a 25-year development plan made during the Ramos administration. These plans stated that nuclear power will be considered only after 2022.

To be able to make “an informed decision on the matter,” Remonde said, the Philippines has embarked on finalizing a Human Resource Development (HRD) program to develop a corps of nuclear scientists and technical experts to study various aspects of nuclear power plant operations – such as “siting, safety, security, transport of nuclear fuel, health and environment impact, social acceptability and disposal.”

He said that Vietnam and Indonesia have announced plans to construct nuclear power plants, while Taiwan has existing nuclear plants despite being an earthquake-prone area.

“The HRD program will also enable the Philippines to handle any eventuality arising from nuclear power plant operations in neighboring countries,” Lotilla said. “Ours, therefore is a science-based approach to the nuclear power option.”

He said there have been many technological developments in the field of nuclear research and that new studies must be made by the government.

“We should keep all our options open but, in the meantime, it is absolutely necessary for us not be distracted from our drive to develop renewable and indigenous sources of energy, which can be implemented in the short and medium-term,” Lotilla said.

GMA vows to cut red tape for mining investments Monday, June 11, 2007

President Arroyo promised to reduce red tape in the government that has been hampering the entry of mining investments in the country, but at the same time stressed the Philippines would only accept environment-friendly mining projects.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye issued the statement after the country hosted the 7th Asia-Pacific Mining Conference in Manila last week organized by the Asean Federation of Mining Associations (AFMA) and the Philippine Chamber of Mines Inc.

He said Mrs. Arroyo made the commitment during a dinner for the participants in Malacañang last week.

“The foreign delegates were impressed and reassured by the President’s consistent message that the Philippines recognizes the mining industry as an engine for economic growth and continues to take the necessary steps to reduce red tape and ensure that our policies and procedures remain investor-friendly,” Bunye said.

He said Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes assured mining investors that his department would facilitate the grant of mining tenements by, among others, the simplification of procedures and streamlining of requirements.

Officials earlier said the Philippine mining sector could attract as much as $10 billion in investments in the next years.

According to a study of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), the Philippines is considered one of the world’s richly endowed countries in mineral resources.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo told the delegates that “there was no contradiction for our country to welcome the development of our mining industry while maintaining the integrity of our land and our communities.”

At the conference, Mrs. Arroyo told the delegates that the economic development in the Philippines must go hand in hand with environmental stewardship.

“Mining companies are welcome here, the President said, for as long as they embody ‘21st century mining’ which respects the environment, provides jobs and income for local communities, and yields revenues for the government,” Bunye said.

He said the mood at the conference “was palpably more electric and buoyant compared to about two years ago when the Supreme Court had put to rest any remaining doubts as to the constitutionality of the Mining Act.”

“Whatever skepticism was in the air then has certainly given way to renewed confidence in our government and the local mining industry, particularly since many projects are truly taking off and the host communities are beginning to feel the economic benefits,” he said. – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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