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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Brazil - Early Nuclear Program

In the early 1950s, President Vargas encouraged the development of independent national nuclear capabilities. He offered to sell uranium or thorium to the United States in exchange for nuclear technology. Under Vargas, Brazil sought to purchase three ultracentrifuge systems for uranium enrichment from West Germany. After Vargas's death, Acting President João Café Filho (1954-55) reversed the nationalistic nuclear policy and allowed the United States to control uranium research and extraction for two years.

Systematic prospecting and exploration of radioactive minerals in Brazil began in 1952. The exploration was accelerated by the availability of funds for this purpose from 1970 onwards. There was active exploration and many occurrences were identified through the use of geological, geophysical and geochemical surveys, and related research. From 1974 to 1991 the total amount spent in uranium exploration was equivalent to US$ 150 million. With changes in nuclear policies and, consequently, uranium requirements, investments fell sharply. Since 1991, all uranium prospecting has stopped.

Brazilian uranium resources occur in a number of geological environments and, consequently, belong to several deposit types; some of them hosted in near surface. In addition to known resources, there is a high potential for further discovery of economic uranium deposits. Areas favourable for uranium resources not yet explored covers 50 % of the Brazilian territory.

President Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-61), a pro-Vargas politician, sought to develop indigenous nuclear capabilities by appointing a Congressional Investigating Committee (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito--CPI) to examine United States nuclear ties with Brazil. The CPI urged Brazil to adopt an independent nuclear posture. As a result, Kubitschek in 1956 created the IPEN (Institute for Energy and Nuclear Research). Kubitschek's successor, Jânio Quadros (president, January-August 1961), continued the independent nuclear policy, which was based on natural uranium, as did his successor, João Goulart (president, 1961-64).

As part of that independent nuclear policy, the CNEN (National Nuclear Energy Commission) was created formally on August 27, 1962. The CNEN is under the direct control of the Strategic Affairs Secretariat (Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos--SAE) of the Brazilian presidency. According to the 1988 constitution, the CNEN is responsible for the orientation, planning, supervision, and control of Brazil's nuclear programs.

The CNEN is located in Rio Janeiro, and is divided into three directorates: Directorate of Research and Development (Diretoria de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento--DPD), Directorate of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (Diretoria de Radioproteção e Segurança Nuclear--DRS), and Directorate of Logistical Support (Diretoria de Apoio Logístico--DAL). The DPD is further subdivided into three scientific and technological institutes: the IPEN, in São Paulo; the Center for Development of Nuclear Technology (Centro de Desenvolvimento de Tecnologia Nuclear--CDTN), which was created in 1952 in Belo Horizonte as Brazil's first nuclear research institute; and the Nuclear Engineering Institute (Instituto de Engenharia Nuclear--IEN), in Rio de Janeiro. The DRS is composed of the Radiation Protection and Dosimetry Institute (Instituto de Radioproteção e Dosimetria--IRD), in Rio de Janeiro; the Licensing and Control Superintendency (Superintendência de Licenciamento e Contrôle--SLC), with its major laboratory in Poços de Caldas, Minas Gerais State; and various regional units.

The most important of the CNEN's research institutes is the IPEN, a civilian agency that is associated with the SCTDE (São Paulo State's Secretariat for Science, Technology, and Economic Development), and linked to the USP (University of São Paulo) (the IPEN provides teaching and graduate education). The IPEN has a broad infrastructure of laboratories, a research reactor (IEA-R1), an industrial accelerator of electrons, and a compact cyclotron of variable energy. The IPEN is involved primarily in conducting research in the areas of nuclear materials and processes, nuclear reactors, applications of nuclear techniques, and nuclear safety. The IPEN is noted for its production of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine.

Despite Brazil's search for autonomy in the nuclear sphere, it continued to receive technical assistance from the United States. In 1957, Brazil built the first of two nuclear research reactors in São Paulo, with United States support under the Atoms for Peace Program. That program had its origins in the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration (1953-61). Under the program, the United States agreed to share nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but retained ultimate control over the processes. A second reactor was developed in Belo Horizonte in 1960. In 1965, Brazil built its first indigenous research reactor in Rio de Janeiro. The United States supplied the medium-grade enriched uranium for the reactor.

The construction of these reactors was controlled strictly by the United States. Brazil provided natural uranium to the United States and paid to have it processed. In turn, the United States supplied Brazil with the enriched fuel required for its reactors. As envisioned by the Atoms for Peace Program, the United States retained control of the technology and by-products created by Brazilian reactors.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2012 14:24:58 ZULU