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Submarino a Propulsión Nuclear

There is no prohibition of a legal nature that prevents the Republic of Argentina, should it so decide, FROM producing nuclear-powered submarines. No international instrument currently in force banS the development of this class of ships to the States that possess nuclear weapons, nor less obviously to those who do not. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) is aimed to ensure peaceful uses of atomic energy. This does not exclude the use of nuclear energy for military purposes in general, provided that they do not involve nuclear explosives or nuclear devices.

Jacques E. C. Hymansa argues that what appeared to the United States to be an Argentine nuclear weapons program was in fact an Argentine nuclear submarine program. From its founding in the early 1950s, the Argentine Comision Nacional de Energía Atomica (CNEA) promoted an ideology of technological autonomy. As early as 1970 the CNEA and the navy had engaged in a joint feasibility study of nuclear propulsion along with the Italian atomic energy authority and German and Italian firms. This study concluded that enriched uranium would be necessary for naval propulsion. It also concluded that foreign provision of such fuel would would be beyond Argentina's capacities. Not surprisingly, the navy was hardly encouraged by these early studies.

The issue was revived, however, in 1972-73 for at least two reasons. First, in the 1972-73 negotiations over the Embalse nuclear power plant, the Germans tried to sweeten their offer of an enriched-uranium reactor not only with uranium enrichment technology as previously mentioned, but with "close collaboration also in the area of marine propulsion and compact nuclear stations for the generation of energy [for example, reactors for the purpose of propulsion]." In 1973 the CNEA and the navy prepared a secret accord in which the navy would provide funds for CNEA research in "compact power reactors, apt for naval propulsion, designed to utilize freely available national fuel."

The military purpose of the uranium enrichment plant at Pilcaniyeu, in all likelihood, was to provide Argentina with the capacity to build not a bomb but a nuclear-powered submarine. From a technical perspective, two points suggest this conclusion. First, while 20 percent enrichment is insufficient fo: a nuclear weapon, it is more than sufficient for a submarine reactor. Second, if one subtracts for various research purposes 100 of the 500 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium that the plant was projected to produce annually, this leaves enough fuel for two nuclear submarines. Moreover, the archival research showed that nuclear submarines and nuclear propulsion, in contrast to nuclear weapons, had aroused substantial interest in the Argentine military-primarily in the navy, the service with the closest institutional links to the CNEA.

In 1976, with the imposition of military rule in the country, work resumed with a vengeance. In 1977 the government contracted with the German company Thyssen Rheinstahl for the acquisition of a class of diesel attack submarine, the TR1700, which had characteristics similar to those of a nuclear submarine. The Thyssen submarine model had the potential to be modified to use nuclear propulsion. The deal was to construct the first two in West Germany and the next four in Argentina.

With a surfaced displacement or 2,116 tons and a submerged displacement of 2,264 tons, it was thought by some to have the potential to be modified to use nuclear propulsion, but this project never moved forward. The French SNA (Sous-marins nucléaires d'attaque - Nuclear Attack Submarine) Rubis class nuclear submarine was launched in 1988. The Rubis was an elegant design that overcame many of the faults with other nuclear submarines. With a displacement of 2,400 tons they are the most compact nuclear attack submarines to date. The CNEA eventually failed to miniaturize the reactor sufficiently to fit it safely in the Thyssen submarine as designed, so the navy never actually decided in favor of building a nuclear submarine. The ambition was definitely present, however, and it was maintained through the 1980s.

On 18 July 1991 the Presidents of Argentina and Brazil signed in Guadalajara, Mexico, an Agreement on the exclusively peaceful use of nuclear energy (ratified by the) Argentina Republic Act 24.046 of 05 December 1991), in which article III states that "nothing in this Agreement shall limit the right of the parties to use nuclear energy for the propulsion or operation of any vehicle, including submarines, as they both are peaceful applications of nuclear energy".

In 1992 the then group of studies on nuclear issues of the Council Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales, CARI (today) (Nuclear Affairs Committee) carried out a study on the possibilities of aArgentine nuclear submarine. The objective was to reflect on the followingkey questions: do on what benefits the interests of Argentina is based on? can count on this technology?, does the Argentina have the technical ability to do this?, Are there any legal impediments of some kind?, what reactions we can wait for? part of the international community?

This study noted that "If Argentina resolved to develop a nuclear-powered submarine, is easy to predict that the international reaction will be negative. The invoked reasons can be varied ... but ultimately the reason is basically one: the developing countries can be instruments of war, a highly sophisticated weapon that they grant them a capacity for action that exceeds the merely local scope. ... The advantages of the submarine are too well known to need to berepeated. Navy not possessing these submarines will have a very limited role. In a conflict with a fleet that has them, its effectiveness will be negligible, as theIt clearly showed the argentino-británica war of 1982. Is at least conceivable that the result of that conflict might have been different have been the Argentina withnuclear submarines. ... to the centres of power, ... the peripheral countries are by definition, not reliable, little serious, unpredictable and, in special cases even irrational."

In February 2008 it was reported in the Buenos Aires press that Brazil would start working jointly with Argentina in the construction of a nuclear submarine, the first in Latin America, to be built using French technology. For that purpose, a binational company would be formed, to develop a small-size reactor already created by Argentina's INVAP technology institute and to be installed in conventional French designed Scorpene class submarines.

Presidents Fernandez de Kirchner and Lula announced 22 February 2008 that Argentina and Brazil will create binational commissions to investigate how the two countries can best cooperate in the enrichment of uranium and in the development of nuclear power plants. The announcement appeared to take members of the Argentine nuclear establishment by surprise. The Argentine press also reported that Argentina and Brazil decided to jointly develop a nuclear-powered submarine, but those reports were met by denials from the Brazilian Defense Ministry and the Argentine MFA.

A number of media outlets, most significantly top-circulation daily Clarin, also ran stories on a supposed Argentina-Brazil agreement to co-develop a nuclear submarine. According to those stories, Brazil is to produce the submarine, based on a French design, and the nuclear fuel, while Argentina is to design the propulsion reactor, based on the CAREM design.

Those reports prompted denials by both the Argentine and Brazilian sides. Reports published February 26 quote Brazilian Defense Ministry Spokesman Jose Ramos as saying: "A joint Brazil-Argentina project for the building of a nuclear submarine is something that is not being discussed." Similarly, the MFA's Sayus told Emboff that the joint declaration contained nothing about nuclear submarine cooperation. An officer in the Argentine Navy's Office of Strategies, Plans, and Policy, reported that the first and only time he had heard of the submarine plans was in the newspaper. Similarly, CNEA's Boado said that he had been "completely surprised" by the news reports regarding the submarine, adding that "the Commission has no information on any of this."

This project seemed unlikely to some. It was difficult to understand what would motivate Argentina to participate in such an expensive and potentially destabilizing project. What stood out with regard to the nuclear-related aspects of the Fernandez de Kirchner-Lula joint declaration is how little in-depth planning seems to have gone into the announcements. Officials in the CNEA, MFA, Navy, and at INVAP were all taken by surprise. That suggests that these nuclear initiatives were hastily initiated and agreed at the political level, under pressure from the two presidents to produce deliverables, rather than evolving organically in response to a real need.

During a visit to Argentina, Brazilian Defense Minister, Nelson Jobim, said that "we have talked with Defense Minister, Nilda Garré, and three Argentine commanders with whom we agreed to create a binational company to develop the compact nuclear small-sized reactor" to be used in a locally made submarine, said the minister in an interview with Argentina's daily newspaper Clarín. Argentina sought to participate on the Brazilian Project but it was not possible. There were conversations, mainly at the time of the February 2008's presidential agreement, with no positive result. The Brazilian government soon made clear that the project would go ahead exclusively under the Brazilian Navy's supervision.

Argentine government officials claimed the press had incorrectly reported some nuclear-related elements of the cooperation agreements signed by Presidents Fernandez de Kirchner and Lula 22 February 2008, noting that a reported deal to cooperate on the construction of a nuclear submarine had been subsequently denied by both countries. The officials claime the submarine partnership was an invention, and caution observers not to place too much trust in the Argentine press. Argentina is concentrating on developing enrichment capability to produce low-enriched fuel for its two existing nuclear power plants and for another under construction.

In June 2010, during a meeting with the press, the Argentine Minister of Defense, Nilda Garré unexpectedly announced an initiative for developing nuclear propulsion for its Navy's vessels. Sources from the Argentine Government made clear that the Project was about propulsion and not about weapons of mass destruction. The project would be based on a nuclear reactor developed by INVAP (the Argentine flagship high technology company) and such reactor could be operative by 2013. To install the reactor on a vessel could demand two more years. The core of the development would be the CAREM, an advanced SMR [small-medium reactor]. INVAP's proposal would be to test and build the prototype for external sales, as a power reactor. Even so,the CAREM would seem to have the adequate compatibility to become a naval reactor, able to power the engines of a TR1700 submarine. Parts for that submarine are already available for assembly at the Tandanor-Domec García [now Argentine Naval Industrial Complex – CINAR] shipyard.

Argentine Minister of Defense Nilda Garré later clarified initial news reports about a nuclear submarine by stating that "it is too early to say whether it [nuclear propulsion] will be for icebreakers or submarines."

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Page last modified: 18-06-2012 20:34:01 ZULU