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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Weapons Programs

Brazil pursued a covert nuclear weapons program in response to Argentina's program. It developed a modest nuclear power program, enrichment facilities (including a large ultracentrifuge enrichment plant and several laboratory-scale facilities), a limited reprocessing capability, a missile program, a uranium mining and processing industry, and fuel fabrication facilities. Brazil was supplied with nuclear materials and equipment by West Germany (which supplied reactors, enrichment and reprocessing facilities), France, and the US. The country has a dependable raw material base for developing atomic power engineering, highly skilled scientific cadres have been trained, technologies for enriching uranium have been obtained, and there are several nuclear research centers.

Brazil's nuclear capabilities are the most advanced in Latin America; only Argentina has provided serious competition. Brazil has two nuclear power plants in operation (Angra I and Angra II) and one under construction (Angra III). Its fissile material production program was multifaceted, with the military services involved in separate projects: the navy, centrifuge enrichment; the air force, laser enrichment; and the army, gas graphite reactor for plutonium production.

With the return of democracy in both Brazil and Argentina, the two countries abandoned their nuclear weapons programs in 1990. Later in 1998, Brazil joined the NPT. As late as mid-2008, despite growing resistance from the Ministry of Defense (MOD) some within the GoB were considering the possibility of signing an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol. In December 2008 the GoB adopted a new Defense Strategy that rejects accepting any new non-proliferation measures unless the nuclear powers "disarm." This hardening of position by Brazil undercut USG efforts to have the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) adopt a new rule regarding a criteria based procedure for transferring enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology, including the requirement that the recipient have an IAEA Additional Protocol in place. Brazil's opposition to an IAEA Additional Protocol has had the collateral effect of preventing Argentina from signing one, both for legal reasons (Brazil and Argentina are linked with the IAEA by the Quadpartite Agreement) and political grounds, not wanting to upset its large neighbor.

The GoB has not clearly articulated its rationale for opposing an Additional Protocol; several reasons have been offered from time to time. GoB officials have said that an Additional Protocol would mean that the IAEA is suspicious of Brazil's intentions regarding its future nuclear program. The MRE's Director of the Division for Disarmament and Sensitive Technologies, Santiago Mourao, opined that this would be treating Brazil "as if it were Iraq or Iran." At the same time, Mourao and civilian officials from National Commission on Nuclear Energy (CNEN) have indicated that technically there is not a problem with complying with an Additional Protocol. The obstacle is a political one, and Mourao and others have consistently pointed to the MOD, particularly the Navy, as the primary source of opposition.

Admiral Othon Pinheiro, the President of Eletronuclear (the operator of Brazil's nuclear power plants), commented that the Navy was very concerned about obtrusive inspections, which could reveal to outsiders Brazil's most sensitive technology. There is also a faction of the Brazilian leadership that believes joining the NPT was a mistake because it meant accepting a sort of second class status for Brazil. This group believes an Additional Protocol would compound this mistake. Whatever the reasons, the GoB has moved from a position of leaning toward signing an IAEA Additional Protocol just a year ago to stiff opposition. It is generally supposed that Brazilian enrichment technology may have been illegally obtained from Germany, and Brazil may want to hide evidence of this.

Multilaterally, the GoB is cautious about taking an active role on non-proliferation and has consistently refused to take a strong position against Iran's nuclear efforts. Brazil strives not to break ranks with the G-77. Although the GoB has been careful to comply fully with UN sanctions against Iran and has asserted the importance of Iranian compliance with UN resolutions, the GoB has also stressed Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and occasionally cast doubts on IAEA findings that certain Iranian activities were inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear program. The GoB is looking to improve political and economic ties with Iran. President Lula met with Iran's President Ahmadinejad in New York in September 2009.

Citing efforts with North Korea, the GoB has made clear that it believes dialogue is the best option to ensure Iran is not a threat to the global community, and has commended P5+1 efforts to engage Iran. North Korea's testing of a nuclear device in early 2009 only delayed Brazil's opening of an Embassy there temporarily. In discussions on non-proliferation, GoB officials frequently avoid supporting non-proliferation efforts by resorting to oft-repeated protestations that the nuclear powers are not doing enough on disarmament ignoring progress being made in this area.

In addition to building more reactors, Brazil is seeking to complete the nuclear fuel cycle and master enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies. Brazil is installing cascades of centrifuges to enrich uranium. While rich in uranium, with the sixth largest reserves in the world, Brazil ships yellowcake to Canada and then to Europe (URENCO) for processing into fuel. President Lula has directed the GoB to develop the skills to do the processing itself and become self-sufficient. This is estimated to take through 2030, after which Brazil may become a supplier within South America and possibly elsewhere of nuclear fuel. The Presidents of Brazil and Argentina have announced that they will form a joint entity to process nuclear fuel, but there has been little progress. While Brazil uses centrifuges for enrichment, Argentina uses gas technology. Brazilians sometimes regard efforts to urge them to join the Additional Protocol with concern that such efforts could be part of an agenda to deny Brazilian mastery of the full fuel cycle.

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Page last modified: 21-09-2012 16:29:59 ZULU