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Reuters: Brazil Nuclear Leader’s Arrest May Stymie Brazil’s Atomic Ambitions

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Background:                     August 5, 2015
 
The head of Brazil’s nuclear energy utility, a retired military man, has been arrested on corruption charges. This will delay further the construction of Brazil’s third nuclear power reactor, Agra-3, which is already about 2 billion dollars over budget.  Total cost is currently estimated at $7.6 billion; it will no doubt continue to climb. Power from existing nuclear plants in Brazil is about 50% more expensive than from other sources. 
 
Brazil’s civilian nuclear program has close historic ties to the military. Alone among non-nuclear-weapons-states, Brazil is developing its own fleet of nuclear submarines; the nuclear shipyard was inaugurated in 2011. The Brazilian military has developed its own uranium enrichment facility using high-efficiency ultracentrifuges of indigenous design.  This capability, developed in secrecy, was only announced to the world in 1987. The Brazilian ultracentrifuges are unique, based on electromagnetic rather than mechanical bearings, and are not subject to direct inspections by the IAEA. The civilian nuclear utility in Brazil acquires its nuclear reactor fuel from the enrichment plant that is owned and operated by the military.
 
Brazil supplied uranium to the US Bomb program during the Manhattan Project — and beyond.  The first Brazilian research reactor was built in 1957 with US assistance. When the military regime wielded power in Brazil (1964-1985) a secret “Parallel Program” was adopted to acquire total domestic control over the complete nuclear fuel cycle — uranium enrichment, reactor operation, plutonium extraction, and nuclear explosive manufacture. Ostensibly devoted to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the military worked clandestinely on nuclear weapons-related matters throughout this period.
 
When India exploded its first atomic bomb in 1974 using plutonium from a Canadian-designed research reactor, Brazil and Argentina were ruled by rival military regimes. Both countries had nuclear ambitions which included a nuclear weapons capability. The Argentine Generals were responsible for the kidnapping and secret murder of tens of thousands of “undesirables”, including journalist and trade unionists. With the help of German scientists, some of whom worked under the Nazis during WWII, Argentina had already built a heavy-water nuclear reactor of German design and an experimental reprocessing plant for separating plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel.
 
Canada sold a CANDU nuclear reactor to Argentina in 1978, despite the brutal nature of the regime and its obvious military ambitions. In 1979 longshoremen in Saint John, New Brunswick, refused to load heavy water onto a ship bound for Argentina because of the atrocities being committed on a daily basis in Buenos Ares.  The Trudeau cabinet decided to have the heavy water trucked in great secrecy to Mirabel Airport in Quebec where it was flown to Argentina. A cabinet briefing document stated that Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of nuclear materials would be in jeopardy if the heavy water were not delivered….
 
(As it turns out, Canada lost $130 million on the Argentian sale, and tens of millions of dollars were diverted from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to a numbered swiss bank account. An investigation by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee concluded that this money was used for illegal or corrupt purposes and that AECL officials were uncooperative and unresponsive when questioned by Committee Members.  The head of AECL, John Foster, was subsequently fired.)
 
Following the Falklands War in 1982, both the Argentinian and the Brazilian military regimes collapsed, and by 1990 both countries had renounced nuclear weapons.  However, neither country has endorsed the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” (endorsed by 129 other countries) that would provide much greater access to IAEA inspectors.  To many outside observers, it seems evident that the military roots of the nuclear programs in these two South American superpowers have never entirely disappeared. 
 
Gordon Edwards.
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Brazil Nuclear Leader’s Arrest 

May Stymie Atomic Ambitions

 
Reuters, July 30, 2015 
 
View of Angra dos Reis nuclear complex, 240 km (150 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, in this Aug. 31, 2011 file photo.
 
 
 

RIO DE JANEIRO— The arrest of the longtime head of Brazil’s nuclear energy utility on corruption charges could disrupt a plan to revive Brazilian nuclear ambitions whose roots go back to its atomic-bomb program in the 1980s.Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, a retired admiral, was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly taking 4.5 million reais ($1.35 million) in bribes from engineering firms working on the long-delayed Angra 3 nuclear power plant.

While its constitution commits Brazil to the peaceful use of atomic power, Pinheiro, 76, has for three decades been a central player in plans to finish Angra 3, build eight additional reactors and even a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

“The arrest is a tragedy for the industry,” said Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, a Brazilian nuclear physicist and Eletrobras’ chief executive from 2003 to 2005.

“The industry was already in crisis, but now the corruption concerns are bound to delay Angra 3 further and cause costs to rise even more.”

Pinheiro, an atomic engineer, was tasked by Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1980s to find a way to build a nuclear reactor small enough for a home-built submarine and the means to process enough enriched uranium to fuel it.

His work eventually led to a secretive, but U.N.-sanctioned, uranium-enrichment plant outside of Rio de Janeiro. The plant, which reprocesses fuel from Angra 1 and 2, does much the same thing as Iran’s controversial military-civilian facilities.

In 1990, five years after the end of military rule, Brazil publicly renounced its bomb-making plans with the implosion of tunnels in the Amazon that had been dug to test thermonuclear devices.

For the past decade, Pinheiro ran Eletronuclear, the nuclear energy unit of state-controlled utility Eletrobras that has been trying to complete the long-delayed Angra 3 reactor 100 km (60 miles) west of Rio de Janeiro.

But with the economy shrinking, environmental fears growing, public anger over corruption, and delays and cost overruns on government projects, Pinheiro’s arrest could lead to a scaling back of Brazil’s nuclear plans.

Scandal

As with a widening corruption scandal at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, the allegations of graft are causing a slowdown at Eletronuclear.

Areva SA, a French government-controlled nuclear reactor builder, was hired by Eletronuclear to assemble the pieces of Angra 3 that have been sitting in storage since the 1980s, but it has struggled to get financing for the project. It recently reduced work at the site as a result.

Since construction restarted in 2010, the Angra 3 budget has nearly doubled to 14 billion reais ($4.2 billion) and the completion date has been pushed back several times.

“The goal of 2019 will be very hard to meet. And the other plants, who knows?” said Claudio Salles, president of Instituto Acende, a Brazilian energy-research group in Sao Paulo. “These plants take 10-15 years to build and as time goes on they become less viable.”

The same applies to the nuclear submarine program, Pinguelli said.

Pinheiro led the submarine program in the 1980s after Brazilian military planners were surprised by the ease with which a single British nuclear sub helped beat Argentina in the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands.

Brazilian police are now investigating a shipyard being built with French help near Rio de Janeiro, according to media reports. The yard is supposed to deliver an attack submarine with a Brazilian nuclear reactor and a hull and weapons systems designed with French help by 2023.

Nuclear supporters who mistrust the program’s grandiose designs hope the problems will speed reform.

The energy ministry this year said Angra 3 will be the last nuclear plant built by the government and it plans to have private contractors build future plants and lease them to Eletronuclear.

“Hydroelectric potential is running out, and wind, solar and biomass won’t meet our needs,” said Nivalde de Castro, an energy economist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “Unless we want to use fossil fuels, we will have to use nuclear.”

Brazil relies heavily on hydropower but dams have already been built on many of its largest rivers and a recent drought has raised doubts about the once-reliable power source.

But Eletrobras and Eletronuclear have a constitutional monopoly on all nuclear power projects in Brazil. Any changes to reduce state control of oil and other energy projects will likely meet stiff resistance.

Ildo Sauer, a nuclear physicist who worked under Pinheiro in the late 1980s, says Brazil’s nuclear program is too expensive and has been co-opted by politicians and major construction and engineering firms.

“The problem is the lobbyists who see nuclear as a chance to build expensive megaprojects with little regard for cost,” said Sauer, a former head of natural gas at Petrobras. “It’s no longer about science or energy. It’s about politics and money, and that brings corruption.”