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Nuclear Programs in Brazil

 
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Brazil's Nuclear Programs



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

The history of Brazil's nuclear programs can be traced back to the early 1930s, with the initial research in nuclear fission. Much of that early research was conducted at the USP (University of São Paulo), some by scientists who had been contracted from abroad. By the mid-1930s, Brazil had discovered vast deposits of uranium. In 1940 President Getúlio Vargas signed an agreement with the United States for cooperative mining, including mining for uranium and monazite. During the 1940s, Brazil signed three additional agreements with the United States. In exchange for monazite, the United States transferred nuclear technology.

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.

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.

Based on the success of these 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.

Many experts have 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 Dollars. 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.

West Germany did not require IAEA safeguards, and following the 1975 agreement Brazil transferred technology from its power plant projects to a secret program to develop an atom bomb. Code-named "Solimões," after a river in the Amazon, the secret program was started in 1975 and eventually came to be known publicly as the Parallel Program. In 1987 José Sarney (president, 1985-90) announced that Brazil had enriched uranium successfully on a laboratory scale to 20 percent. At that time, some observers predicted that Brazil would have a nuclear-weapons capability by the turn of the century. President Fernando Collor de Mello took bold steps to control and restrict Brazil's nuclear programs. In September 1990, he symbolically closed a test site at Cachimbo, in Pará State. That October, he formally exposed the military's secret plan to develop an atom bomb.

Within Brazil's Congress, a CPI looked into the Parallel Program. Members visited numerous facilities, including the Institute of Advanced Studies (Instituto de Estudos Avançados--IEAv) at the Aerospace Technical Center (Centro Técnico Aeroespacial--CTA) in São José dos Campos. They also interviewed key players in the nuclear program, such as João Figueiredo (president, 1979-85) and retired Army General Danilo Venturini, the former head of the National Security Council (Conselho de Segurança Nacional--CSN) under Figueiredo. The CPI investigation exposed secret bank accounts, code-named "Delta," which were managed by the CNEN and used for funding the program. The most disturbing revelation in the CPI report was that the IEAv had designed two atomic bomb devices, one weighing twenty to thirty kilotons and a second weighing twelve kilotons. It was also revealed that Brazil's military regime secretly exported eight tons of uranium to Iraq in 1981.

Through a series of agreements, Brazil and Argentina have defused the issue of nuclear rivalry. On May 20, 1980, while under military rule, both countries signed the Brazilian-Argentine Agreement on the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy, establishing technical cooperation in developing the nuclear fuel cycle and coordination of nuclear policy. President Sarney and Argentine president Raúl Alfonsín strengthened this cooperation in 1985, with the Joint Declarations on Nuclear Policy of Foz do Iguaçu. After the 1985 agreement, the presidents and technical staffs made reciprocal visits to nonsafeguarded nuclear installations in both countries. The heads of state made subsequent joint declarations in Brasília (1986); Viedma, Argentina (1987); Iperó, Brazil (1988); and Buenos Aires (1990).

On November 28, 1990, Presidents Collor de Mello and Carlos Saúl Menem of Argentina signed the second Foz do Iguaçu declaration (Argentine-Brazilian Declaration on Common Nuclear Policy of Foz do Iguaçu), in which both governments pledged their commitment to an exclusively peaceful use of nuclear energy and established a Common System for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (Sistema Comum de Contabilidade e Contrôle de Materiais Nucleares--SCCCMN). On July 18, 1991, Presidents Collor de Mello and Menem agreed to establish the Agreement on the Exclusively Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy, which created the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (Agência Brasileiro-Argentina de Contabilidade e Contrôle de Materiais Nucleares--ABACC). That agreement entered into force on December 12, 1991, after ratification by the legislatures in both countries. With headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, the ABACC provides on-site inspections of nuclear facilities in Argentina and Brazil and maintains an inventory of nuclear material in each country.

The most important nuclear accord between Brazil and Argentina was signed on December 13, 1991, in a meeting attended by Presidents Collor de Mello and Menem at the headquarters of the IAEA in Vienna. The accord is referred to as the quadripartite agreement, because it was signed by Brazil, Argentina, the IAEA, and the ABACC. The agreement allows for full-scope IAEA safeguards of Argentine and Brazilian nuclear installations. It also allows the two countries to retain full rights over any "technological secrets" and to develop nuclear energy for the propulsion of submarines. Brazil's Senate ratified the agreement on February 9, 1994, but only after considerable pressure by Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Itamaraty).

On May 30, 1994, Brazil ratified the Treaty of Tlatelolco (see Glossary), following the lead of Argentina and Chile, which had ratified it on January 18, 1994. In Brazil there was an active lobby against the quadripartite agreement and the Treaty of Tlatelolco. Indeed, it took Brazil considerably longer than Argentina to approve those pacts. Brazilian diplomats have argued that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is discriminatory because it excludes capabilities of those already in the club. Furthermore, some Brazilians have argued that the NPT is an infringement on sovereignty and that the current agreements are sufficient and even stronger than the NPT. Nevertheless, Brazil finally agreed in 1997 to ratify the NPT.

Some observers have argued that Brazil is still seeking the technological capability to produce a nuclear bomb, despite the 1991 quadripartite agreement, the full ratification of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and a provision in Brazil's 1988 constitution that bars the development of nuclear energy for anything but peaceful purposes. They note that Brazil's nuclear program is under the primary control of the military, which resents IAEA inspections. Brazil's Senate required a "supplementary adjustment" to the treaty that protects "industrial secrets," possibly the nation's Aramar centrifuge enrichment facilities, from on-site inspections. The Aramar Experimental Center was inaugurated in 1988 and is the only uranium enrichment plant in Brazil. It is located in the interior of São Paulo, in the town of Iperó. A further amendment was added that bans IAEA inspections outside the normal schedule. Finally, Brazil was allowed to provide an accounting of the uranium that has already been enriched, but the IAEA and ABACC have no way to verify that amount. The dual nature of nuclear energy allows it to be used for both peaceful and military purposes. The military application of Brazil's nuclear programs, therefore, depends less on technological considerations than on political will.

Most observers, however, are more optimistic about Brazil's nuclear intentions. Argentine diplomat and nuclear expert Julio César Carasales has argued that Brazil's nuclear programs need to be understood in the context of Brazil's rapprochement with Argentina. In that context, he concluded that, "Extraordinary accomplishments already have been achieved and have been generally welcomed; there is no danger that the process will be reversed or undermined; the time has come to consolidate the bilateral arrangements; the nuclear control agency, the ABACC, is performing in a satisfactory matter; new substantial agreements are not to be expected; and some policy divergence is possible, as in the case of the NPT, although there are reasons to predict that in the long run Brazil will join that treaty." Indeed, in 1997 Brazil announced its adherence to the NPT.

Brazil's nuclear programs have experienced severe financial constraints since 1990, when Collor de Mello was president. The Aramar Experimental Center dismissed 700 of its 1,600 employees between August 1994 and March 1995. The completion date for the navy's nuclear-powered submarine was postponed several times, from 1995 to 2010. Until 1995 that project had cost an estimated US$1 billion. The submarine program, rarely scrutinized in the past, was the subject of scathing criticism by Veja , the leading weekly news magazine, in December 1994. The magazine raised allegations of corruption and exposed technical difficulties with the program.

Despite such 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- ) 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.

Data as of April 1997

 






 



 


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