UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Submarinos Nucleares de Ataque (SNA)

Submarinos Nucleares de Ataque (SNA)An atomic submarine can be a pathway to an atomic bomb. The Highly Enriched Uranium [HEU] needed for a bomb can also fuel a submarine. Higher levels of enrichment provide longer reactor core life and less frequent refueling. A naval reactor core might contain from 200 to 400 kilograms (kg) of U-235. The minimum mass of fissile material needed for a nuclear weapon is called a critical mass and depends on many factors. A bomb made with Urannium might need from 15 kig to 56 kg of U-235. The HEU required for a single nuclear submarine reactor would thus be the equivalent of at least 3 and possibly upwards of nearly 30 nuclear weapons.

The Navy changed the denomination of the nuclear powered submarine to “conventional nuclear powered submarine”, wanting to emphasize that the submarine will not carry nuclear weapons. But the change causes confusion because it is contrary to the name in other navies, where conventional submarine means a unit with diesel-electric propulsion.

The nuclear submarine program enjoys broad political support, including from the political left, in part because of the perceived technological benefits that may be derived from the project. The 2010 Joint Plan and Marine Equipment of Brazil (O Plano de Articulação e Equipamento da Marinha do Brasil - PAEMB) provided for 15 conventional submarines (SBR - Brazilian Submarine), 6 nuclear submarines (SNBR - Brazilian Nuclear submarine). In November 2009, the Minister Jobim announced that Brazilian plans were to build 3 SNBRs instead of the original single. In 2010, it was said that eventually 15 SBRs and 6 SNBRs were to be built in the country.

Submarines are vessels that sail hidden on the seabed and represent a great advantage in an eventual military conflict. More than that, the simple fact that a nation maintains a fleet of submarines acts as a deterrent tactic for any hostile action. For more than thirty years, the Brazilian Navy has cherished the dream of having a nuclear powered submarine, and many studies have been carried out for this purpose since the 1970s. Due to their concealment capacity, submarines are considered the most capable means of naval deterrence, and, even more so, those of nuclear propulsion. The nuclear powered submarine offers extra advantages over conventional models. Nuclear propulsion, which generates energy by breaking atomic nuclei, dispenses the oxygen needed to burn diesel.

In this way, the vessel has greater autonomy and navigation because it is not forced to emerge periodically, to replenish oxygen. In addition, nuclear propulsion gives the submarine greater speed. The technology for producing the fuel and the nuclear propulsion system is being developed by the Technological Center of the Navy in São Paulo.

On 26 November 2020, the Navy took a significant step in the process of obtaining the first conventional nuclear powered submarine (SN-BR), the main object of the Submarine Program (PROSUB), by signing the Approval of the Bases for the Preliminary Project (ABPP) ). The event took place at the Metal Structures Manufacturing Unit, at the Itaguaí Naval Complex. To contextualize the importance of this act, it is worth mentioning that the Navy Commander, through Ordinance No. 332, of November 16, 2020, created the charge of Naval Authority for Nuclear Safety and Quality (ANSNQ), appointing the Director-General of Nuclear and Technological Development of the Navy, Squadron Admiral Marcos Sampaio Olsen, to exercise it, concurrently with the other tasks under his responsibility.

Brazil and France have also signed an agreement to develop a French/Brazilian nuclear powered submarine. In line with the deal, as of 2011 Brazil's first nuclear submarine was scheduled to enter service in 2023. In Brazil, the SN-BR is the declared ultimate aim of the Prosub program launched in 2009. The project was first conceived in the 1980s. Following SN-BR feasibility studies begun in 2012, the Brazilians worked on the preliminary design to January 2017. At that time, the detailed design study was scheduled to begin in July 2018. The design team, then comprising some 200 people, was expected to grow to three times this current head count. The Brazilian Navy hoped to lay the keel for the SN-BR boat in early 2020, to launch it in late 2027 and to deliver it by around 2030.

The navy's most ambitious program is the development of a nuclear-powered submarine. It should be understood, however, that the high level of enrichment of the uranium used in some naval nuclear propulsion reactors is nearly that required for a nuclear weapon. Currently, the US and UK naval reactors are fueled with weapon-grade Highly Enriched Uranium [HEU] with more than 93 percent uranium-235 (U-235), Russia uses HEU containing more than 20 percent U-235, while France, having used HEU has decided to shift to low-enriched uranium (LEU) containing less than 20 percent U-235.

The SNAC-2 program has been under way since 1979, but progress has been slowed by persistant funding problems. Concerning the plans to produce nuclear submarines in Brazil, Naval Minister Maximiano da Fonseca said in March 1984 that there is no clearly defined program for that purpose. The program under study pertains to the manufacture of steam-powered submarines "which may develop in that direction in the future." However, there is a contract, still contingent upon financing, for the building of a first conventional submarine in Germany, with the assistance of Brazilian naval technicians. On the basis of the knowledge gained, a second unit will be produced in Brazil.

President Lula, visiting the Aramar Experimental Center July 2007, announced that the necessary resources for the completion of the PNM will be released (R $ 1 billion, distributed for eight years - about $130 million per year). In a meeting in MD, it was established that, in the budget for that Ministry in 2008, the MB should have about $ 130 million, allowing for resume development of the PNM. In the strategic design of the MB, the availability of these resources would add new dimension to Naval power, ensuring an enviable ability to deterrence and putting it up to the needs arising from the constitutional mission of the Naval Force.

In a 10 July 2007 interview with DefesaNet following the Aramar announcement, President Lula de Silva said "I think that we now have the conditions for completing this project, and Brazil can afford itself the luxury of being one of the few countries in the world to command the technology for enriching uranium and, on the basis of that, I believe that we will be given much more respect as a nation, as the power that we wish to be.... Why not dream big and say that we want to reach the point where a nuclear submarine is a possibility?"

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, both of Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested in Jefferson County, West Virginia, by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) on 09 October 2021. For almost a year, Jonathan Toebbe, 42, aided by his wife, Diana, 45, sold information known as Restricted Data concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power. In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent. The Toebbes were charged in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The work of the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Energy was critical in thwarting the plot charged in the complaint and taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

Jonathan Toebbe was an employee of the Department of the Navy who served as a nuclear engineer and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors. He held an active national security clearance through the U.S. Department of Defense, giving him access to Restricted Data. Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear powered warships.

The complaint affidavit alleged that on April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, listing a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, containing a sample of Restricted Data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase additional Restricted Data. The affidavit also alleged that, thereafter, Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government. The individual was really an undercover FBI agent. Jonathan Toebbe continued this correspondence for several months, which led to an agreement to sell Restricted Data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as “good faith” payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia. There, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged “dead drop” location. After retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment. In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. On Aug. 28, Jonathan Toebbe made another “dead drop” of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It, too, contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Oct. 9, after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia.

“Among the secrets the U.S. government most zealously protects are those related to the design of its nuclear-powered warships. The defendant was entrusted with some of those secrets and instead of guarding them, he betrayed the trust placed in him and conspired to sell them to another country for personal profit,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

On 14 February 2022 Toebbe pleaded guilty to count one of the indictment charging him with conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data which carries a maximum statutory penalty of up to life in prison, a fine up to $100,000, and term of supervised release not more than five years. Pursuant to his plea agreement, Toebbe will serve a minimum of 151 months, or 12 and a half years, in federal prison.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro asked during his visit to Moscow in mid-February 2022 Russian President Vladimir Putin for assisting in developing a nuclear submarine, media reported. The Brazilian president touched upon the issue during the talks with Putin after the United States had refused to satisfy a similar Brazilian request, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported 16 March 2022.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 17-03-2022 18:18:43 ZULU