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The United States and the Philippines signed a historic agreement on Friday that will allow Washington to export nuclear technology and materials to Manila. The agreement will allow the peaceful transfer of nuclear material, equipment and information subject to non-proliferation requirements. Negotiations for it began in November 2022.
“The United States will be able to share equipment and materials with the Philippines as it works to develop small modular reactors and other civilian nuclear power infrastructure,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said at a signing ceremony on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Summit economic cooperation in San Francisco. The South Asian republic is exploring the use of nuclear power to decarbonize and increase energy independence.
“We see nuclear power becoming part of the Philippines’ energy mix by 2032, and we are more than happy to follow this path with the United States,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a speech. The son of the late dictator whose family looted billions of dollars, he was elected president of the Philippines in a landslide in 2022 – 36 years after his father was ousted in a historic revolution.
As of the end of 2022, the United States had 23 agreements in place covering 47 countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and democratically-ruled Taiwan. To enter into force, the agreement with the Philippines must also be approved by the US Congress.
The country, which in 2022 saw economic growth in all 17 regions of the archipelago, is vulnerable to volatile global oil prices, seasonal power outages and high electricity prices. The Philippine government wants to use nuclear power as a viable alternative baseload power source, saying one goal is to phase out coal-fired power plants to help meet climate goals.
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Previous attempts to pursue nuclear power in the Philippines have been halted due to safety concerns, but Marcos has discussed the possibility of reviving a defunct nuclear power plant built in response to an energy crisis during his late father’s administration. Completed in 1984, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was shut down just two years later following the ouster of Marcos Sr., the deadly Chernobyl nuclear disaster and allegations of corruption.
On Friday, Marcos Jr. said he would meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the ATIS summit to discuss tensions in the South China Sea: “We will hear the Chinese president’s opinion on what we can do to let’s let off steam so as not to escalate the situation in the West Philippine Sea,” Marcos said in a video message.
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Named after his father, Marcos Jr. describes his political views as “conservative” and “Machiavellian” and is usually defined in political studies as a populist. He became the country’s head in mid-2022 with the daughter of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, against whom the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary investigation in 2018, in the role of vice president.
Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was the head of state of the Philippines between 1965 and 1986, ruling under martial law for nine years. His rule was notorious for brutality, extravagance and corruption. Marcos Jr. is one of his four successors.