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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Brazil - Nuclear Power Program

Brazil has decided to revive its civilian nuclear energy program. Government-owned entities control over aspect of nuclear energy, from mining uranium, to building nuclear reactors, to owning, operating, and overseeing those reactors. As of 2009, two reactors at Angra dos Reis, south of Rio de Janeiro, are completed and operating. Westinghouse built Angra I, and Siemens constructed Angra II.

Siemens stopped work on a third reactor (Angra III) in 1986, but work resumed in September 2009 after a 23-year lapse, with completion slated for 2015. According to industry sources, Eletronuclear plans to build at least four new nuclear power plants (in addition to Angra-3) by 2030, in order to meet expected growth in Brazilian electricity demand. For the mid-term, Brazil plans to build 4-8 new reactors by 2030. The GoB has expressed interest in working with the United States as they move toward developing its nuclear sector. GoB officials would like U.S. firms to compete for work on these new reactors, and Westinghouse has been actively pursuing opportunities here. Further, GoB officials have expressed interest in collaborating with the USG to improve nuclear safety and security and its nuclear facilities and to help in training the next generation of technicians and experts. In addition, Brazil is struggling with a long-term solution to handling nuclear wastes, which are currently stored on site. They are interested in advice on this sensitive issue. Moreover, the GoB is thinking of reorganizing CNEN, which currently oversees the nuclear energy sector, into a new agency for regulation, along the lines of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and another entity for promoting and developing nuclear energy. They are interested in discussing this reorganization with the USG.

Based on the success of research reactors, plans were made for a nuclear reactor to produce electricity. In 1968, the CNEN and Eletrobrás were tasked with building a nuclear power plant at Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro State. Three years later, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation agreed to supply the technology for the power plant, and construction of Angra I began. However, Brazilian authorities were dissatisfied with the Westinghouse accord, because it barred the transfer of United States nuclear technology to Brazil, made Brazil dependent on United States uranium for the reactor, and required that all Brazilian nuclear facilities be safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Brazil's military governments continued to assert autonomous nuclear strategies. These regimes were frustrated by restrictions imposed by the United States on its nuclear programs, concerned with Argentina's rapid nuclear development, and facing energy shortages (accentuated by the petroleum crisis of October 1973). A turning point was the inauguration of President Ernesto Geisel in March 1974. A former president of Petrobrás, the petroleum monopoly, Geisel was concerned with the country's pressing energy needs. In December 1974, he created the Brazilian Nuclear Corporations (Empresas Nucleares Brasileiras S.A.--Nuclebrás), a state company tasked with expanding the nuclear programs.

Brazil was faced with a technical dilemma: it could switch to natural uranium technology, which could be pursued independently; or it could continue to pursue the more costly and advanced enriched uranium technology, but with external assistance. Brazilian policy makers opted for the latter, but given that the United States had been an unreliable supplier, Brazil was forced to look elsewhere for assistance.

Brazil made a radical change in 1975, when it opted for nuclear technology from West Germany, despite strong protests from the United States. The agreement, signed on June 27, called for West Germany to transfer eight nuclear reactors (each of which could produce 1,300 megawatts), a commercial-scale uranium enrichment facility, a pilot-scale plutonium reprocessing plant, and Becker "jet nozzle" enrichment technology. West Germany's Kraftwerk Union, an affiliate of Siemens, was hired to construct the power plants. The projected cost of the program was US$4 billion, to be paid over a fifteen-year period. The most important element of the agreement was that it called for the first-ever transfer of technology for a complete nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing. The United States government opposed the accord vigorously. Although it was unable to revoke the agreement, the United States convinced West Germany to enact stringent safeguards.

Brazil has been producing uranium since 1982. Between 1982 and 1995 the cumulative uranium production was 1,030 tU from the Poços de Caldas Unit and 540 tU from the Lagoa Real Unit, the only commercial plant currently in operation, between March 2000 and December 2002. Brazilian short?term uranium production capability is 340 tU/year.

Many experts questioned the cost-effectiveness of Brazil's nuclear power plants. The Angra I power plant cost US$2 billion to build, and it began to operate commercially in 1983. When Angra I is in full operation, it produces 20 percent of the electricity used in the city of Rio de Janeiro. From 1985 through 1993, however, Angra I was turned off more than thirty times because of technical problems and legal challenges, earning it the nickname "firefly." Furnas Electric Power Plants, Inc. (Furnas Centrais Elétricas S.A.--Furnas), the state company that administers Angra 1, lost US$100 million in operating costs in 1993 alone because the plant was closed down most of the year. The plant is expected to be torn down in 2009, at a cost of US$200 million.

Angra II, under construction since 1977, was projected to be ready by 1993, but in early 1996 its completion date was still uncertain. The construction of Angra II had cost at least US$4.6 billion through 1993, and it was estimated that at least an additional US$l.5 billion would be necessary to complete the project. Various experts projected that the total cost of the plant construction would exceed US$10 billion. Angra II, with power of 1,309 mW (megawatts), finally came on line in July 2000.

Still in its early phases of construction, Angra III cost US$1 billion through 1993. On October 18, 1994, President Itamar Franco (1992-94) requested that US$400 million in funding that had been allocated to Angra III be transferred to Angra II. Given the severe budget constraints, the construction of Angra III and additional power plants appear doubtful.

Angra III was long a hole excavated in the rock, but 43% of its equipment had been bought and are kept in 24 sheds in the Nuclear Central office and Itaguaí, in the NUCLEP. They were about 10,000 pieces of equipment bought from Germany, that had arrived at Brazil from 1986. The delay of the project imposed a series of challenges to the Angra II constructors. Despite the resistance of the German Green Party, the Nuclear Agreement Brazil - Germany was renewed in 2000 by the two countries. It was confirmed each 5 years.

The Navy exerted pressure inside the sides of the government in an attempt to prevent the entrance of private capital in the business. Of the other side, the banks German Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and the KFW, the financial council members of the project, were favorable to the opening of the Angra III construction to international groups. The two banks would very much like to see URENCO, group of German, Dutch and English capital, supplying Uranian to the new plant.

The Navy would like to exclude the presence of the private capital because it is developing research to use the technology of the ultracentrifugalization on an industrial scale and has an interest in processing Uranian for the new plant. However, it may not win this battle. First, it does not have the responsibility for this question, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Second, it does not yet have the large-scale technology to compete with international groups.

In accordance with the data supplied for the Secretary of Energy, Brazil would invest to R$ 8,2 billion, annually, up to 2009, to increase the capacity of generation of electric energy in the country and to more than raise it of current the 62 a thousand mW for 90 a thousand mW to the end of that period. Of the volume of resources, 40% will be destined to the generation and the remain divided equally between the transmission and the distribution of energy.

Despite financial and technical hurdles, it is likely that Brazil will continue to fund efforts to develop more autonomous nuclear programs. Indeed, the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (president, 1995-2000), in mid-1995, placed a high priority on completing the Angra II nuclear power plant. Such programs will be pursued in a more open environment, given the many bilateral and multilateral nuclear accords signed by Brazil.

In September 1994, Russia and Brazil agreed to cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. One area of cooperation is nuclear safety. During talks in April 1995, the two sides considered the construction of small nuclear power plants in Brazil using low-capacity Russian reactors like those used on icebreakers.

The operation of pressurized light water reactors (PWR) adopted by Brazil for the generation of nuclear power in the Country use uranium that should be slightly enriched, that is, the light isotope uranium 235 that occurs in natural uranium with a proportion of 0.72%, should be enriched by 3.5%. Political reasons of internal supply, as well as economic reasons make it useful to Brazil that this uranium enrichment should be processed in the Country.




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Page last modified: 21-09-2012 16:30:00 ZULU