Text for Discussion:
Nuclear inspections in Brazil and the French public pissoir.
Othon L.P. da Silva
The aggression and occupation of countries without the UN support is a great motivation for nuclear weapon proliferation
Motivated by, or using as a pretext the petroleum crisis in the early 70’s, the Brazilian government executed a diplomatic agreement with Germany, which supported commercial contracts that followed, to purchase nuclear power plants, technology transfer, and industrial facilities to produce nuclear fuel from Brazilian ore.
The uranium enrichment plants – the most important stage in the nuclear fuel cycle – use gaseous diffusion or ultracentrifuge technology. In the opening of Brazil-Germany Agreement negotiations, the transfer of ultracentrifuge technology to Brazil was foreseen.
The ultracentrifuge technology had the American veto, and the Brazilian negotiators accepted as ersatz a technology named “jet-nozzle” which, by the time it was purchased had not enriched one single gram of uranium. We had accepted and paid to be partners in the development of some technology, economically unfeasible that, besides requiring higher initial investments, used electric energy more voraciously than gaseous diffusion, considered as the most obsolete technology used in old facilities built in the United States, Russia, France and China before 1960.
In 1978 the author of the present article proposed, and the naval administration agreed, that the development of ultracentrifuges for uranium enrichment should be started in partnership with some other national organizations.
In September 1982, the first uranium enrichment operation with centrifuges entirely planned, designed and fabricated in Brazil was carried out. In September 1984, a small group of centrifuges interconnected by piping started operating, and in 1987 a small module of the Industrial Demonstration Plant with 48 centrifuges started operating. In 1991, an industrial demonstration module with approximately 500 ultracentrifuges capable of producing 280 kg of uranium per year started operating with enrichment lower than 5%. That enrichment level is higher than the percentage needed for Angra dos Reis Power Plants and provides for the needs of the naval reactor. A core of such reactor uses about six tons of this uranium and enables the submarine to operate for ten years.
The official understanding of IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations organization, is that the nuclear propulsion does not represent a warfare application of nuclear energy, but it is only another alternative propulsion. Another understanding would make the ocean traffic for nuclear submarines and ships of the powerful nations more difficult in times of peace. The Brazilian option for a naval reactor core with enrichment below 5% discards any insinuation regarding deviation of nuclear fuel to be used in weapons.
The Brazilian President José Sarney invited the Argentinean President Raul Alfonsin for the inauguration of the first module of the Uranium Enrichment Experimental Plant in ARAMAR, in the state of São Paulo. At that time, the external policy and the internal measures adopted were characterized by proud pacifism, without subservience and with strong significance for South American integration.
Then, the foundations for ABACC – Brazil-Argentina Agency for Accounting and Control were created to perform constant inspections following the same inspection patterns as IAEA, while keeping open information exchange with that organization.
During Fernando Collor de Mello’s Administration, the Quadripartite Agreement among Argentina-Brazil-ABACC and IAEA was ratified, reducing ABACC’s status. This agreement allowed IAEA to monitor and directly control the enriched uranium produced, however the commercial secrets were honored, restricting the technological intrusion.
Before the date when the Quadripartite Agreement was ratified, the centrifuges that comprised the five hundred-unit module were absolutely visible to anyone who came into the building where they operated. The need of permitting the control without disclosing the developed technology led to the adoption of a solution, similar to the French public pissoir. The double rows of centrifuges were then operated between two screens, placed approximately thirty centimeters above the ground, therefore allowing the vision of the centrifuges base without showing their whole structure and enabling the monitoring of the uranium hexafluoride input and output piping.
That solution was accepted by the IAEA, when its Chairman was Hans Blix, some time later appointed chief inspector in Iraq by the United Nations, before that country was last invaded. Furthermore, the IAEA installed sealed cinematographic cameras to ensure 24-hour-a-day monitoring, with the right to an annual quota of both programmed and surprise inspections in every Brazilian nuclear facility.
During Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Administration, contradicting decades of coherence in external policy, Brazil agreed to ratify the nuclear NPT – Non Proliferation Treaty. The NPT is asymmetric and discriminating because it exempts from inspections countries bearing nuclear weapons and inspects only those countries that do not have nuclear weapons. Before the NPT ratification, we were committed to Argentina’s ABACC and IAEA and not directly to every national state, members of the United Nations, whether holding nuclear weapons or not, as it finally turned out to be.
The radicalization of the American nuclear policy, under the pretext of preventing the proliferation of mass destruction weapons, has placed the country under pressure to sign the Protocol Additional to the NPT, which expands still further the existing asymmetries in that treaty, by requiring as many inspections as they may be arbitrated as necessary, not only in nuclear facilities but also in any part of the Brazilian territory, that according to the international inspectors’ criterion are considered suspicious, even in our own homes, if they decide to do so.
INB-Industrias Nucleares Brasileiras (Brazilian Nuclear Industries), successor of former Nuclebrás, abandoned the jet-nozzle enrichment technology, and is now building in Rezende, state of Rio de Janeiro, an Enrichment Plant aiming at producing fuel for the Brazilian nuclear power plants with technology transferred by the Navy, and eventually export, under IAEA supervision. Americans exert pressure in order to postpone, or even obstruct the completion of such power plant, being the use of “screens” unaccountably contested.
The refusal to screens shall not be considered as an intention of American industrial espionage, since they have already developed excellent centrifuges for the enrichment plants they are building. To suppose that it is a refusal of the “French solution” would be unreasonable, no matter how big their disappointment concerning France might be. Following the screens, some other excuses will emerge.
There are at least two motivations for the USA to try to prevent the construction of the Brazilian enrichment plant: one of economic nature and another of strategic-military motivation.
Energy sources have great economical value. The fact of having large uranium ore reserves and holding a technology that is commercially competitive for nuclear fuel production shall accredit Brazil to an important role as global player in the billionaire nuclear fuel world market, and not only that of being a mere ore exporter. To prevent such possibility may be the economic motivation.
In military terms, nuclear weapons can be classified in two ways: weapons of mass destruction and weapons that inhibits force concentration. The powerful fusion weapons (hydrogen bombs) and the large fission weapons will always be weapons of mass destruction. Even the low power fission or fusion weapons, if used against civilian populations, are considered as such.
The use of nuclear weapons will always be an unfortunate event for mankind, especially as weapons of mass destruction. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki holocausts were “mass destruction” and at that time they met the opposition of a large group of the American intelligentsia and motivated the initial proliferation of atomic weapons.
Any attempt of invasion or territorial occupation implies military force concentration. The existence of low power nuclear weapons with an adequate launching vector is a powerful inhibition factor of military force concentration, does not please countries that have as strategic option the possibility of military intervention, independent of the seal of approval from UN’s Security Council.
The existence of a uranium enrichment plant reduces the time between denouncing all agreements and treaties already executed, and the eventual manufacture of weapons (making nuclear weapon on short notice, as in the international jargon). This would explain the American strategic-military concern, even though the Brazilian democratic regime has repeatedly and clearly expressed its option for not making nuclear weapons, including such decision in the constitutional wording. The development of nuclear weapons would imply unnecessary expenses and would generate a feeling of distrust that could go against the economic, cultural and peaceful coexistence among the South American national states.
Both in government acts and private undertakings, Brazil has always had an exemplary behavior concerning the non-transfer of sensitive technology, different from Pakistan that attained its uranium enrichment capacity through an ingenious espionage program led by the scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, and sold such technology to other countries. In Brazil, without the warfare motivations of that country, we have decided for a serious research and development program, which led us to some better technical and economical results, at much lower costs, without ever selling such developed technology.
The IAEA’s inspection standards, to which Brazil is now subject to, are corroborated as efficient, since they are the same as those used in the post-war period for decades, regarding the democratic regimes of Japan and Germany, countries that maintained their waiver to the manufacture of weapons, including during the cold war critical times. There is no reason for Brazil to accept the strengthening of standards under the pretext of the attitude of other countries, subject to non democratic regimes and with a recent past characterized by confrontation with the USA.
President Bush’s proposition to resume nuclear tests and to develop a new generation of small weapons to be used “surgically”, including against non-nuclear countries, is rather worrisome to the world. Such attitudes added to aggressions, with no support from the UNO Security Council, constitute a strong stimulus to nuclear proliferation, especially in those Islamic countries, which may represent high risk of confrontation.
Ever since it became independent, Brazil has been an allied country of the United States. The Brazilian people cherish many aspects of the American culture, however, they have the right to resist pressures and refuse to accept the Protocol Additional to the NPT, as well as, quietly and with no antagonism, reject vetoes on its peaceful activities with great commercial significance.
Decisions on energy are of major economic importance, therefore they should be made peacefully, respectfully, and paramount, aiming at meeting the best interest of the Brazilian society.
Othon L.P. da Silva
Entrepreneur. Naval, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineer.
Graphic Edition/Edição Gráfica:
Tuesday, 11 November 2008.