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Brazilian Perspectives on Fissile Material Control

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O Crepúsculo do Petróleo
Mauro F. P. Porto



Brazilian Perspectives on Fissile Material Control

Carlos Feu Alvim*,
Olga Mafra*
and José Goldemberg**

Draft, 03 August 2009

*Economy and Energy e&e -Av.Rio Branco №123, room1308
CEP 20040-005, Rio de Janeiro

**Institute of Eletrotechnics and Energy of the University of São Paulo (IEE/USP)


The possibility of a nuclear energy revival after 20 years of stagnation arises questions about the ability of some countries to satisfactorily respond to the concerns about safety, nuclear wastes and proliferation risk. In this context, the Brazilian Nuclear Program is presented as well as the Brazil-Argentina cooperation in the nuclear area.

Keywords: Brazil, Argentina, cooperation, nuclear energy, Brazilian Nuclear Program, proliferation, defense


The possibility of a “renaissance” of nuclear energy after 20 years of stagnation raises questions about the ability of some countries to respond satisfactorily to the concerns about safety, nuclear waste and the risk of proliferation. Such concerns clearly show the importance of international non-proliferation treaties and the mechanisms and organizations responsible for the management and application of safeguards and physical protection to nuclear materials.

Brazil and Argentina are part of this context. In July 2008 ABACC1 – the Brazilian Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials - commemorated 17 years of existence during which it has performed inspections in the nuclear facilities of both countries in coordination with IAEA.

Since then successive declarations from both governments have emphasized their support for the work of ABACC. Additionally, last February, Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, reiterated their commitment to cooperation in the nuclear area, and signed an agreement on working together in areas such as nuclear reactor technology and uranium enrichment.

It is important to emphasize that ABACC does its own material balance verification at enrichment plants, checking the presence of height enriched uranium (HEU) through swipe sampling and through surveillance and sampling methodology that assures that the connections in the cascades are appropriate for LEU and not HEU production. ABACC with IAEA also performs unannounced inspections in which samples from feed, product and waste from the enrichment pilot plants are collected.

The political decision to reactivate the Brazilian and Argentinean nuclear programs for peaceful purposes and to develop “joint ventures”, not only raises expectations of growth for the entire nuclear production chain of both countries, but also broadens the responsibilities of the regional organisms in charge of inspections.

Recently on December 23, Eletronuclear2, Eletrobrás and Electricité de France (EDF) signed in Rio de Janeiro a protocol for cooperation for electrical energy generation from nuclear source. The agreement is valid for five years.

The studies and cooperation envisaged will be focused on the following components of a nuclear program: technical excellence, administrative and contractual structures and financial and economical aspects. The studies will include information exchange about legal and administrative aspects; the nuclear fuel cycle; suppliers and construction management, commissioning and operation of nuclear power plants.

2. Brazil’s Current Nuclear Program

Angra 1

The first Brazilian nuclear power plant is a PWR (pressurized water reactor), the most commonly used power reactor in the world. Since 1985, when it started commercial operation, Angra 1 has been generating sufficient energy to supply a city of one million inhabitants. This first power plant was purchased on a “turn key” basis that did not envisage technology transfer from the suppliers.

However, the experience accumulated by Eletronuclear3 in 23 years of commercial operation of Angra 1, which included solving a large amount of fabrication and operational problems presented by the plant since the beginning, allowed the company to master the capacity of carrying out a continuous program of technological improvement and incorporation of the most recent technical progress.

There were also problems regarding the replacement of the Westinghouse nuclear fuels by fuels made by Brazil using German technology due to the embargo imposed by the Carter Administration. Those fuels presented structural problems and led to replacement of an entire load. There also was a premature degradation of the steam generator. The experience accumulated by nuclear industry in Brazil, however, allowed local technicians to participate actively in the replacement the Angra 1 steam generators that will extend the life of the plant for a long time. It is expected that Angra 1, which was operating at only 79% of its nominal capacity (657 MW) in January 2009, will resume operation at its full nominal capacity with the new steam generator built by NUCLEP (Nuclebrás Equipamentos Pesados S.A.) a state-owned company created as a result of the Brazil-Germany agreement.

Angra 2

Because of the Brazil-Germany nuclear agreement, the construction and operation of Angra 2 was associated with some technology transfer.

Angra 2 is a PWR type reactor and its nominal power is 1350 MW. Angra 2 has contributed to the maintenance of the levels of the hydro-power plants reservoirs that supply electricity to Southeast of Brasil.

As of January 2009, Angra 2 is operating at 100 % of its nominal capacity.

Angra 3 and Plan for Expansion

The governmental decision taken in 2008 after reviewing Brazil’s nuclear program is considered essential for Brazil to keep the technological capacity acquired along 30 years. The plan to complete Angra 3 and construct additional nuclear plants is a guarantee of the continued development of Brazil’s nuclear-power program that will attract recently graduated personal to work in the area.

Another important point is that Brazil, according to the Government, will reach self-sufficiency in the near future in the production of uranium ore and in the next decade the country will have a surplus of uranium production that could be exported.

The state enterprise Brazilian Nuclear Industries (INB) currently produces 400 tons of uranium concentrate per year. In 2015 this amount will be 2,300 tons due to the duplication of the Caetité (BA) mine and the opening of the Santa Quitéria (CE) mine. However, the operation of Angra 1, 2 and 3 and four additional power plants envisaged by the 2030 PNE (National Energy Plan) –would require only 1,600 tons of uranium per year. The export of the uranium surplus could finance the expansion of the Resende (RJ) enrichment plant as well as the construction of a unit to convert yellowcake (uranium concentrate) to uranium hexafluoride gas.

CNEN (National Nuclear Energy Commission) is the federal organization responsible for issuing licenses and authorizations as well as for the inspection of nuclear installations in with regard to their radiological aspects. For this purpose it maintains resident inspectors at all the reactor installations.

IBAMA – Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources – is the Federal Government body responsible for the environmental licensing of large scale industrial undertakings.

According to the Brazilian environmental legislation, large projects with possible environmental impacts – such as nuclear reactors – require 3 licenses:

  • A preliminary license when the project is proposed

  • A license to build

  • A license to operate

The sitting approval for Angra 3 was issued in 1980 and, after complying with all the specific conditions, a “preliminary” license was granted on 23 July 2008 by IBAMA with a set of 60 requirements to be fulfilled.

After answering these requirements, a license to build was submitted on 25 November 2008. The installation licenses that Eletronuclear applied for were analyzed by CNEN and IBAMA and issued in March 2009.


Nuclear Waste Management

Nuclear wastes are classified according to their radioactivity level. At the Angra plants materials used in plant operations, such as gloves, shoes, slippers, special clothes, equipment and even masking tape are classified as “low-radioactivity wastes” after use. After being collected and separated, these materials are decontaminated in order to reduce their radioactivity level. Some materials are shredded, compressed and packed into receptacles that shield their radiation.

“Medium radioactive waste” such as filters, solidified liquid effluents and resins, are packed in a solid cement matrix and kept in appropriate steel receptacles. While the radioactivity of this material decays it must be encapsulated and stored underground in isolated and monitored deposits.

Spent Nuclear Fuel

Spent fuel elements that have been used in nuclear power plants to generate electrical energy are high-level wastes. They are stored in special pools within the reactor building where they remain for at least ten years. The pools can safely store the used fuel during the operation life of the plant. The operation of a nuclear power plant like Angra 3 during 60 years produces 1,500 m3 of irradiated fuel (a volume of 11mx10mx14m).

Some countries such as the Sweden and Finland have already identified and are working on permanent geological repositories in artificial caverns or tunnels under thick rock layers and proven to be resilient against natural events. No permanent repository is in full operation. These storage installations are financed by taxes included in the electrical tariffs of tenths of euro cents per KWh.

The construction of a National Waste Disposal Repository for low and intermediate level wastes is planned for 2014 and it will start operation in 2018. CNEN and Eletronuclear are cooperating to plan the construction of an “interim storage facility” that would guarantee the safety of high-level wastes for a period of 500 years. The long-duration interim store for spent nuclear fuel will have the following planned schedule:

2009: Proposal presentation

2013: Prototype validation

2014: Start of project

2017: Site selection

2019: Start of construction

2026: Start of operation


The aim of the Government is to reach self-sufficiency in fuel production for power plants, for the submarine prototype and the production of fuel for research and isotope-producing reactors.

MINING (yellow cake Production)

Brazil’s current production of yellow-cake (U3O8) is 400 tons per year. Self-sufficiency will be reached in 2012 with the mining of 1200 tons/year. By 2025, planned production will be 2100 tons/year.

Brazil’s uranium reserves are currently 309,000 tons. It is foreseen that an additional 150,000 tons will be added by 2012 of which 50 thousand tons will be from the Caitité mine (Bahia) and 100 thousand tons from the Rio Cristalino mine (Pará). By 2030, another 500.000 tons are expected to be added to the reserves and additional surveys are foreseen.


Concerning conversion of uranium oxide to UF6 and back, self-sufficiency will be reached in 2014 and maintained until 2030. The first industrial plant will produce 1,200 tons of UF6 per year. Its design will be completed in 2 years and its construction in 3 years.

In 2014 it will supply Angra 1, 2 and 3. According to present plans, another expansion to 2,400 tons/year will supply Angra 1, 2 and 3 plus four additional 1000 MW reactors in 2018. A further expansion to 3,600 tons/year will be enough to supply the above mentioned reactors plus two additional 1000 MW reactors. 


Regarding enrichment, self-sufficiency will be reached in 2014 and maintained until 2030. There will be an increase of centrifuge enrichment capacity provided by the Navy, to 100 thousands SWUs/year from 2012 on.


Reprocessing will not be considered since there is no intention of fuel reprocessing in Brazil.


Brazil currently (2007) depends on hydroelectric power for 85% of electric energy generation; only 2.5% is nuclear. The 2030 Energy Plan for Brazil projects four new nuclear power stations of about 1,000 MW each. The diversification of the sources of supply by the inclusion of thermal power plants is considered essential to the reliability of Brazil’s electrical grid.4

To reach the EPE (Energy Research Enterprise) Energy Decennial Plan projection from 2007 to 2016, Angra 3 producing 1.4 GW should start operation in 2014, and, additional 4 GW of nuclear origin should be constructed, according to the National Energy Plan for 2030.

The site selection will be made for four more nuclear power plants, two in the Northeast at one site and two in the Southeast also at one site. The construction schedule of the new plants is the following:

1.   OCT/08: start of site selection for the Northeast Plant

2.   2010: start of site selection for the Southeast Plant

3.   2019: start of operation of the first Northeast Plant

4.   2021: start of operation of the second Northeast Plant

5.   2023: start of operation of the first Southeast Plant

6.   2025: start of operation of the second Southeast Plant


4. Brazil and Argentina's Nuclear Cooperation5, 6 ,1

Argentina’s President Kirchner and Brazilian President Lula da Silva in February 2008, signed a nuclear cooperation agreement, one of seventeen signed agreements related to infrastructure, energy, and defense. Since then, technicians from both countries have been working to define potential joint projects, such as a "uranium enrichment enterprise" and a "model nuclear power reactor that would meet the needs of the electrical systems of both countries and, eventually, of the region" 5.

There will be limitations, however, on sensitive technology transfer such as enrichment. In this field most probably each country will use its own technology in a model similar to Eurodif George Besse Plant. There is no definitive decision about this issue but public policy statements from the recently launched Brazilian National Defense Strategy, “has raised some concerns about nuclear cooperation with Argentina, particularly relating to technology transfers” 6.

The September joint declaration describes future efforts as encompassing "30 structured projects on reactors and nuclear waste, fuel cycle, nuclear applications and regulations." The number of announced nuclear commitments has increased over time. It is possible that a joint company (named EBEN), which was originally conceived to enrich uranium, could take on other nuclear activities related to health, agriculture, production of radiopharmaceuticals, development of research reactors, and materials technology. It is uncertain, however, whether such a broad approach can be efficiently implemented 6.

This strategic alliance could also turn Brazil and Argentina into global suppliers of enriched uranium and advanced reactors of intermediate power

The idea of joint work on nuclear propulsion for the Brazilian submarine was not considered. Furthermore, the Brazilian government made clear that the project would go ahead exclusively under the Navy's supervision6.

Brazil's expected contributions to the common initiative would be its proven enrichment technology, its abundant uranium reserves (sixth in the world, even with only 30 percent of its territory explored), and its ability to define and execute long-term plans. Argentina could bring its experience as a successful nuclear exporter, and worldwide recognition of its excellent nonproliferation credentials6.

Argentina and Brazil are seen as having been successful in turning their nuclear competition into cooperation through mutual confidence. This approach is often considered as a model for other regions where potential nuclear proliferation risks exist 1.

Nevertheless it is not yet certain that both countries will become successful partners by taking advantage of their joint strengths. Certain obstacles could endanger this process. Bureaucratic resistance, as well as possible asymmetries of interests and views – especially those related to the possibility of sharing proprietary technology – could upset the balance of the agreement and, therefore, its long-term sustainability 6.

Large-scale projects seem to lie beyond both countries' technological capabilities, and would therefore very likely, rely on other joint projects with more experienced nuclear partners prepared to transfer technology 6.

Other factors, such as increasing geopolitical influence and the opportunity to become a global player in the potentially lucrative market of nuclear fuel (before additional international restraints are adopted), could also play a role 6.

Many nations are currently considering building nuclear power plants. Even though this trend has to be reassessed in light of the current global economic crisis and lower oil prices, there may still be a significant market that the partners could supply. This could mean big economic benefits, even though this factor is not seen as a main motivation in the short and medium terms6.

For Argentina, nuclear cooperation could reinvigorate its nuclear industry and the opportunity to partner with Brazil. From a nonproliferation point of view, a bilateral venture carried out by two democratic countries, without regional conflicts, and operating under efficient control by international organizations such as the ABACC (Brazilian-Argentine Agency of Nuclear Materials Accounting and Control) and the IAEA, offers far more guarantees than independent projects developed in isolation6


On 17 December 2008, Brazil’s Defense Minister and the Head of the Strategic Affairs Secretariat proposed a National Strategic Defense Plan7 to the President of the Republic. This proposal carries out the determination of the President himself made through the Presidential Decree of 6 September 2007 that established the Ministerial Committee for its formulation, chaired by the Defense Minister, coordinated by the Head of the Strategic Issues Secretary and including Ministers of Planning, Budget and Management, Finance and Science and Technology, and advised by officers from the Navy, Army and Aeronautics. The role of the key decisive sectors, namely space, cybernetics and nuclear, are examined. The plan considers nuclear energy as strategic to the Brazilian national defense.

The Plan states that Partnerships among countries and overseas procurement of products and services must be carried out with guarantees that involved “know-how” and technologies remain under national control.

 With regard to the nuclear area, the document points out that due to the Brazilian Constitutional mandate and to international treaty commitments, the country has relinquished the use of nuclear energy for purposes other than pacific ones. This was done, primarily based on the expectation of progressive nuclear disarmament by Nuclear Weapons States. The text highlights the Brazilian support of nuclear disarmament, but adverts that renouncement of the development of nuclear weapons does not imply self-denial of the development of nuclear technology.

The Plan proposes that Brazil develop nuclear technology, by giving priority to the following initiatives:

  • Complete the nuclear submarine program, the full nationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle, at an industrial scale (including uranium conversion and enrichment), and also, reactor technology;

  • Speed up prospecting for, mapping, and utilization of  Brazil’s uranium resources;

  • Develop national capabilities to design and construct nuclear power plants (to produce electricity), including mastering technology, even those developed in partnership with other states and foreign companies;

  • Subject the deployment of nuclear energy technology in Brazil to the most demanding security and environmental controls;

  • Increase capabilities to apply nuclear energy to a wide scope of other activities. 

To assist the National Strategic Defense Plan that considers defense of the distant maritime border and deterrence of force concentration of Brazil’s coast very important, nuclear propulsion is to be mastered, along with the design and construction of submarines, and a force of nuclear submarines provided to the Brazilian Navy. 


Regarding nuclear propulsion, the start of operation of the land prototype of Brazil’s nuclear propulsion reactor (LABGENE) is foreseen for December 2014. The fuel of this reactor will be low enriched uranium (LEU).

With regard to the acquisition of conventional submarine technology, an agreement between Brazil and France was completed in December 20088. The importance of this agreement at the political, military and energy levels is considerable. From the political point of view, it is a cooperation agreement with a relevant country of the European Community, shifting Brazil from a preferential relationship with the United States. At the military level the agreement consolidates Brazil’s option on a Brazilian nuclear submarine that has been contested in the past and now seems to be unquestionable due to the discovery of off-shore oil. From the nuclear point of view the agreement was made with the country that has one of the highest nuclear shares of electrical generation in the world and therefore it can help Brazil with its nuclear development and in the training of the new generation of professionals of the sector.

 Even though Brazil has developed its own nuclear technology it is not possible to disregard scientific and technological cooperation in this area. France has the most developed nuclear industry in the world. China for example, has acquired nuclear power plants from France including technology transfer.

Construction of a new shipyard is planned during the period 2009-2014. The construction of conventional submarines by NUCLEP is planned for 2009 and the start of operation of the first new conventional submarine is foreseen for 2015. The first nuclear submarine is planned to be constructed in the new shipyard from 2015 on and start operation in 2021.


All these activities both in the energy and strategic areas are included in the National Energy Plan for 2030 published by EPE and in the National Strategic Defense Plan established by the Government and they comply with the Quadripartite Agreement for Nuclear Safeguards signed by Brazil, Argentina, ABACC and IAEA. In those plans Brazil reinforced its commitments, expressed in its Constitution and in its international agreements, of only using nuclear energy for peaceful purpose but stressed its intention to develop and protect its own technology.

A detailed analysis of the new Brazilian National Defense Strategy suggests that the signature of a "traditional" Additional Protocol (AP) with the IAEA will not likely happen in the short term. Brazil wishes to keep wide open its options to access nuclear technology, and moreover has decided not to endorse any additional restriction to the Non Proliferation Treaty, if the Nuclear Weapons States Parties do not show progress on their core commitment to nuclear disarmament.

As it is well known, the Additional Protocol is based on the NPT, and it is only additional to the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Technically, what has been declared in the Defense Plan need not prevent Brazil from signing it.

It is important to mention that the nature of an Additional Protocol with weapon sates is completely different from that with non – weapon state. It is like voluntary material and facilities put under older safeguards. There is no meaning of looking for undeclared activities or materials in a weapon state.

One possible way forward would be that Brazil would engage in a special agreement including provisions of the Additional Protocol AP. Reportedly, some members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have encouraged Brazil to accept such an agreement, which could be finalized through government-to-government negotiations.

Another relevant fact is that, within the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Brazil and Argentina are the only non-signatories of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Model Additional Protocol (AP). If the AP were made a mandatory condition of supply, both states could face difficulties in developing a healthy foreign trade scheme for advanced technological products, since their nuclear industries are still dependent in many ways on imports from other nuclear suppliers 6. It is almost sure, however, that any intent to jeopardize international technical cooperation, such as the present nuclear agreement between Brazil and France, as occurred in the past with the Brazil-Germany agreement, would re-energize in countries such as Brazil the urgent necessity of developing its own nuclear capacity using its own capability.






5. INFCIRC 722.

6. “Brazil and Argentina's Nuclear Cooperation” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Proliferation Analysis, Irma Arguello, 9 January 2009.




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