The ten largest economies and nuclear energy:
Reflections regarding the future of Brazil
Carlos Feu Alvim
Leonam dos Santos Guimarães
The article analyzes the ten largest world economies, among which Brazil is included, from the nuclear energy point of view regarding both mastering the nuclear fuel cycle for electricity generation and the possession of nuclear weapons. Of these ten countries Brazil is the only one that does not possess nuclear weapon while the others do have them or share them with those that have them. In this context it is shown the strategic importance for Brazil to maintain active the peaceful uses of nuclear energy expanding its technologic mastering and installed industrial capacity in the different sectors with it associated.
Keywords: Brazil, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, fuel cycle.
Brazil is the eighth largest world economy if the purchasing power parity (PPP) criterion is used and the seventh one when the nominal exchange rate criterion is considered. Both calculations were made by the International Monetary Fund in 2010. The first criterion is a better representation of production of countries and does not depend on the national exchange rate policies and their sudden oscillations caused by conjuncture problems. Anyway Brazil is among the eight largest world economies by both criteria.
The largest world economies
In Table 1 are presented the ten largest economies using both the PPP and nominal exchange rate criteria. The table includes also Canada which is the 14th country in the PPP criterion but the 9th in the nominal GDP.
Table 1 - Ten largest economies using the purchasing power parity
(PPP) and the nominal GDP.
Source: IMF 2010 (IMF in Wikipedia, 2010)
The purchasing power parity methodology indicates the GDP at prices equivalent to those in the USA. For this reason, the values of this country are identical in the two lists. Among the ten largest ones, the relative position shows a large variation using both criteria and the largest variation is that of India that changes from the tenth to the fourth position when the PPP is considered.
In the list of the ten largest world economies Russia replaces Canada when the nominal exchange rate is changed to PPP, practically even in the seventh place with the United Kingdom by the PPP criterion.
Figure 1 illustrates the position of the countries according to the GNP measured by the PPP and the nominal value. The eleven represented countries occupy the ten first positions in the world ranking using both criteria.
Figure 1: The ten largest world economies in 2010 (GDP in PPP)
When the per capita income criterion is used, the list would include on the top a large quantity of small rich countries. Among the largest GDP, the USA is in the 9th position, Canada in the 12th and Germany in the 19th. The other largest economies occupy positions below the 20th.one.
Brazil, that recently surpassed the world average value of the GDP PPP per capita, occupies the 72th position. It should be observed that China occupies the 94th position and India the 129th one. In spite of the low per capita income value of these countries, this does not reduces their specific weight in the international trade and it really reinforces it because of the existing potential market in the long term vision.
So, Brazil already has a position among the “ten biggest” in the world economy and it is the fifth country in terms of territory and population according to Table 2.
Table 2 - Brazil’s position in the population and area ranking.
Source: (CIA, 2011)
Its natural resources, manpower and diversified production of goods and services allow the projection of future ascension of Brazil in this list, according to some international economic studies. The GOLDMAN SACHS, 2007 projection puts Brazil in fourth position of the GDP PPP in 2050, according to Figure 2.
Source: Goldam Sachs 2007
2: The ten largest world economies until 2050
The fact that our economy is among the ten largest ones has not yet been incorporated in the Brazilian mind but it is a concrete fact in the international relations.
Previously we had that uncomfortable sensation that the Brazilian President was almost an intruder in the photos of world summit forums. We got used to it and in the future the members of the so called G8 group will be aware that their meeting will have no practical significance if countries like China, Brazil and India are not present. It is probable that this is already happening.
The ten most of nuclear energy
The criterion adopted for fixing the permanent members of the UN Security Council that have veto power (USA, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France) was not the relative weight of the countries regarding economy, population or area: it was the fact that they were the “winners” of the Second World War. At first only the USA had nuclear weapons. But very soon the other “winners” had them too (GUIMARAES, 2010).
This was justified by the historical context in which this criterion was chosen, namely, immediately in the post-war period and post Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At that time and in the following decades the “Cold War” and the “Mutual Assured Destruction – MAD” ideology, the determining relative weight was without any doubt the military power of which nuclear weapons were a fundamental asymmetric factor of power by force.
Today, more than 60 years after the end of the war, the possession of nuclear weapons and the persistent survival of the ideology that is connected to it seems to be the only objective criterion to maintain this status quo.
Fortunately, the possession of nuclear weapons and the military power itself are not the basic determining factor anymore regarding the influence of countries in the world. The economic factors are more and more determinant than the possession of nuclear weapons for measuring the political weight of the countries.
The economic ascension of Germany and Japan and in a smaller scale that of Italy and the other European countries that were destroyed in the war were the first signs of this change even though mitigated by the “nuclearization” of France and Great Britain (and later that of China), by the establishment of OTAN, that permitted “sharing” nuclear weapons with its member states, and by the American nuclear “umbrella” over Japan.
In Table 3 are indicated the ten largest countries in terms of GDP (in PPP) and their situation regarding the possession and sharing of nuclear weapons. It is pointed out for Japan the existence of the nuclear protection “umbrella” offered by the USA. It is also indicated the number of research nuclear reactors in operation in these countries which is an indicator of the scientific and technological development activity level in the nuclear area and the production of radioisotopes for medical and industrial uses.
Table 3 - Nuclear weapons and mastering of the fuel cycle in the ten countries with largest economic activity
Sources: (IAEA , 2010), (World Nuclear Association, 2011)
Of the ten largest economies, six have their own nuclear weapon. Germany and Italy are member countries of NATO and they have various “shared” nuclear artifacts stored in their territory. The detailed conditions regarding this sharing are not exactly known. However, it is known that, for example, there are in Germany Tornado fighter airplanes in the Luftwaffe ready to be loaded with nuclear artifacts (KRISTENSEN, 2005) under NATO’s command. It is also known that NATO’s commander, once the USA command in this organization is heard, has the decision about the use of the shared nuclear weapon (GAO, 2011).
Japan has an agreement with the USA that assures a nuclear protection “umbrella” that implies the existence of nuclear weapons at a relatively short distance of potential threats. This makes us believe the presence of nuclear arms in ships and airplanes in Japanese territorial waters or in its soil, even though controlled by Americans. At least in the past, there are hints (documents disclosed allowed by the USA Freedom of Information Act– FOIA) that nuclear weapons were in the Japanese territorial, maritime and aerial spaces (KRISTENSEN, 1999). Questioning the efficiency of this protection umbrella and the consequent discussion regarding the convenience of having its own nuclear force to defend itself from eventual attacks is a recurrent issue in the internal politics in Japan that arises whenever tensions with China (territorial disputes of islands) or North Korea (nuclear tests or long range missiles) occur.
Concerning the mastering of the nuclear cycle and nuclear electric generation, only Italy has now no activity in this area due to a political decision (popular referendum in 1987), under a strong emotional influence of the Tchernobyl accident (1986), when its last nuclear reactor was definitely deactivated in 1990. In the context of an internal political crisis in the Berlusconi government, aggravated by the Fukushima accident, the resuming of nuclear activities in Italy was rejected in the recent popular referendum in 2011.
By a Law in 2001, Germany has committed itself to definitely deactivate all its nuclear reactor until 2022. The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel succeeded in approving in the Bundestag the law that has postponed this decision for 10 years. This change was due mainly to technical difficulties that Germany is facing to go ahead with this political decision and at the same time to reduce the emission of greenhouse effect gases as well as maintain a reasonable national energy assurance, minimizing electricity imports from neighbor countries and fossil fuels, specially natural gas from Russia.
However, after the Fukushima accident (March 2011) and also in the context of an internal political crisis connected with the proximity of elections, this same government has moved back maintaining the 2022 limit date. However, the German government has not a policy of abandoning activities connected with the nuclear fuel cycle or banning nuclear weapons from its territory, which would be contradictory.
Nevertheless, these political decisions do not prevent Italy and Germany to import a significant share of their electricity consumption from countries that generate it from nuclear source, such as France, Slovenia, Hungary and the Check Republic.
It should be noticed that both Italy and Germany were inclined to admit electricity generation from nuclear source when the Fukushima accident occurred in the context of an internal political crisis and this caused these countries to reaffirm their previous position, namely abandon nuclear power plants.
In Table 4 are indicated the data regarding electricity generation and the nuclear share. The table also shows the estimated uranium reserves in the countries (only the relevant reserves from the world point of view are indicated). The possession of uranium reserves is naturally a factor to be considered in the decisions relative to nuclear energy in the country.
Table 4 - Electricity generation and nuclear share in the ten countries with the largest economic activity
Source: (IAEA , 2010)
It should be pointed out that Brazil, Russia and the USA are the only countries in the world that have large uranium reserves, technological mastering of all fuel cycle steps and a nuclear generation park in operation. However, Russia and the USA have installed industrial capacity sufficient to supply the national needs in the conversion and enrichment steps in spite of the fact that they have pilot plants of limited capacity since the end of the 1980s.
Among the ten largest world economies, Brazil is the only one that does not possess or store nuclear weapons in its territory and does not even consider the possibility of using it in its defense strategy. Together with New Zealand, Brazil is the only country in the world that has banned the non peaceful use of nuclear energy in its territory in its Federal Constitution. Therefore, Brazil is signatory of the Non Proliferation and the Tlatelolco Treaties; the latter has established Latin America and Caribbean as a zone free from nuclear weapons.
The Brazil-Argentina Agreement, that eliminated a potential nuclear arms race in the region and created the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Material (ABACC), commemorates 20 years in 2011. The Agreement has assured the favorable political climate for later establishing the MERCOSUL. This economic bloc has been the basis for advancing the South American continent integration. The opened economic space has a great importance for the continent. Trade with Argentina, that was almost negligible, has made our neighbor the second commercial partner of Brazil.
It is the interest of Brazil to maintain its position regarding the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This confers Brazil a unique feature among the “ten most” world economies, that is reflected in is moral and ethical authority that can be politically used in different situations as, for example, the reform of the UN Security Council and in arbitration of international crises. This “competitive advantage” is much more valuable than the possession of nuclear weapons that, after all, were made not to be ever used.
However, the tables presented obviously show the strategic importance of Brazil to maintain its position regarding the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, expanding its technological mastering and installed industrial capacity in the different associated sectors such as radioisotope production for medicine and industry, nuclear fuel production and electricity generation.
The National Energy Plan (NEP) foresees the conclusion of Angra 3 until 2015 and the addition of 4,000MW until 2030, together with the goals established for self-sufficiency in the production of nuclear fuel and maintenance in the next two decades of almost the same present nuclear share in electricity generation, which is a sensible option from the energy point of view considering the need of diversifying the energy matrix.
CIA The World Fact Book consulted in July, 2011,
IMF cited in Wikipedia. (2010). consulted in July, 2011,
GOLDMAN SACHS, BRICS AND BEYOND - study of BRIC and N11 nations, Novembro 2007, disponível em
GUIMARAES, L. S., A (contra) Ameaça Nuclear, in Revista Marítima Brasileira vol 130, série 04/06, maio de 2010.
GAO. (May 2011). NUCLEAR WEAPONS- DOD and NNSA Need to Better Manage Scope of Future Refurbishments and Risks to Maintaining U.S. Commitments to NATO. Washington - DC - USA: United States Government Accountability Office, disponível em
IAEA (2010). Nuclear Power Reactors in the World - Reference Data No. 2. Viena: International Atomic Energy Agency.
Kristensen, H. M. (Julho 1999). Japan Under the Nuclear Umbrella: U.S. Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War Planning In Japan During the Cold War. The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development.
Kristensen, H. M. (Fevereiro 2005). U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: A Review of Post-Cold War Policy, Force Levels, and War Planning, Natural Resources Defense Council, diponível em
World Nuclear Association (Julho 2011). World Nuclear Power Reactors & Uranium Requirements, Consultado julho 2011, em
 Editor of the Economy and Energy e&e periodical http://ecen.com. He was the first Brazilian Secretary of ABACC - Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Material, from 1992 to 1993.
 Assistant of the Director President of Eletrobrás Eletronuclear S.A. and member of the Permanent Nuclear Energy Advisory Group of the General –Director of the International Agency of Atomic Energy
Graphic Edition/Edição Gráfica:
Tuesday, 01 October 2013.