Nuclear Industry

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Nuclear Industry

Early attempts to develop a national capability in nuclear science and technology in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico date back as far as the 1950s. Research on alternative fuel cycles and reactor prototypes preceded negotiations with foreign suppliers for the acquisition of "turnkey" plants. Argentina negotiated the acquisition of its first nuclear power plant in 1968 from the West German firm Siemens, its second in 1973 from Atomic Energy of Canada, and its third in 1979 from Kraftwerk Union (KWU), a subsidiary of Siemens. The first two (Atucha I, near Buenos Aires, and Embalse, in Córdoba) began operation in 1974 and 1983 respectively. The share of national Argentine components for these plants increased from over 30 percent for Atucha to over 50 percent for Embalse. The third nuclear power plant, Atucha II, was expected to be completed by 2010. All three are fueled with natural uranium and moderated with heavy water. In addition, Argentina has five small research reactors, a pilot heavy-water-producing plant, a uranium-enrichment facility, and a commercial heavy-water plant and small (plutonium-separating) reprocessing facility under construction.

Brazil acquired its first and only operating reactor (Angra I) from Westinghouse in 1971, a pressurized water reactor (fueled by enriched uranium) that came on line in 1985. In 1975 Brazil signed a large-scale agreement with KWU for the purchase of up to eight plants as well as complete fuel-cycle technology, from uranium mining and enrichment to fuel reprocessing. The share of domestic inputs for the power plants was to grow considerably beyond the initial (30 percent) contribution. Angra I and Angra II are operating and Angra III is still under construction as of 2008.

Brazil became the site of the largest factory of heavy components for nuclear reactors in the third world (Nuclep). In addition to the pilot enrichment plant contracted for in 1975, the navy operates an indigenous enrichment plant at Aramar, linked to a nuclear submarine program (the program succeeded in enriching uranium in 1986 and led to a pilot centrifuge facility at the Aramar Research Center). In 2006, Brazil opened a new centrifuge called Resende. Both Argentina and Brazil are capable of exporting certain components and services for nuclear industries, including uranium exploration, mining, and processing; training in nuclear safety; power and research plant equipment; and engineering. Argentina has sold nuclear reactors to Egypt, Australia, Algeria, and Peru.

Ambiguous nuclear policies persisted in Argentina and Brazil for many decades, when both countries upheld a long-standing rejection of the NPT as a discriminatory tool. The 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) provides for the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology to the developing world but compels the recipients not to obtain or produce nuclear weapons nor export sensitive materials without international safeguards implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nor did Brazil nor Argentina become an effective party to the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco for many years either. Chile and Cuba remained outside Tlatelolco for decades as well. Brazil and Chile signed and ratified the treaty but did not waive the conditions required for the treaty to enter into force on their territories.

The democratic administrations of Raul Alfonsin and Jose Sarney in Argentina and Brazil made joint declarations of peaceful intentions and exchanged visits to sensitive facilities but did not abandon opposition to the NPT, refusals to ratify Tlatelolco, or rights to peaceful nuclear explosions. On 28 November 1990, Carlos S. Menem of Argentina and Fernando Collor De Mello of Brazil, took the unprecedented step of signing an agreement renouncing the manufacture of nuclear weapons and pledging to open all their nuclear power facilities to reciprocal inspections. The declaration implied a common intention to conclude a "full-scope" safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereby all their present and future nuclear facilities would be open for international inspection.

Argentina and Brazil also committed themselves to take initiatives leading to the full entry into force of the Tlatelolco Treaty provisions. A Common Accounting and Control System signed in July 1991 was followed by an agreement on the Exclusively Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy (Guadalajara, 1991), which created an Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC, Agência Brasileiro-Argentina de Contabilidade e Controle de Materiais Nucleares). Joint declarations committed both countries to put into effect an updated version of the regional NWPZ Tlatelolco Treaty. In 1992 Argentina, Brazil and Chile agreed on amendments designed to facilitate their adherence to the Tlatelolco Treaty (Cuba signed the treaty in 1995). Argentina ratified the NPT in 1994 and Brazil in 1998.

The Treaty of Tlatelolco is the product of Mexican regional diplomacy. An NPT-signatory, Mexico contracted in 1972 for its first power plant, a boiling-water reactor, from General Electric. Laguna Verde was connected to the electric power distribution network in 1990, after intense antinu-clear activities by ecological groups. Such activities became more common in Brazil and Argentina only after democratic regimes assumed power in the mid-1980s. Finally, Cuba had ambitious plans to generate more than a quarter of its energy from nuclear power but has only two partially constructed nuclear reactors, Juragua 1 and 2.

See alsoCollor de Mello, Fernando Affonso; Menem, Carlos Saúl; Nuclebrás; Science; Technology; Weapons Industry.


John R. Redick, "The Tlatelolco Regime and Nonproliferation in Latin America," in International Organization 35, no. 1 (Winter 1981).

Etel Solingen, Industrial Policy, Technology, and International Bargaining: Designing Nuclear Industries in Argentina and Brazil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

Additional Bibliography

Rojas Nieto, José Antonio. Desarrollo nuclear de Mexico. Mexico, D.F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1989.

Solingen, Etel. "Macropolitical Consensus and Lateral Autonomy in Industrial Policy: Nuclear Industries in Brazil and Argentina." International Organization 47:2 (Spring, 1993).

Valle Fonrouge, Marcelo F. Desarme nuclear regímenes inter-nacional, latinoaméricano y argentino de no proliferación. Ginebra: UNIDIR, 2003.

                                             Etel Solingen