Brazil hopes to finish never-ending power plant as attention turns nuclear

. Feb 27, 2020
nuclear power brazil angra 3 The Angra 3 construction site. Photo: Eletronuclear

Last year, the Brazilian government announced its intention to once again exploit its national uranium reserves, including private players in the mix. Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque also pledged to turn to public-private partnerships to continue the construction of the notorious Angra 3 nuclear plant, which has now sat unfinished for 36 years.

Work on Angra 3 began in 1984 and there is still no indication when it will be concluded. Since the military dictatorship launched the project it has suffered from many delays, caused by factors ranging from the Chernobyl disaster, a massive currency crisis in the late 1980s, corruption investigations involved in Operation Car Wash—which saw a former president put behind bars—to Brazil’s recent recession.

</p> <p>Deciding on the future of Angra 3 is pivotal for the government&#8217;s intentions of privatizing energy company Eletrobras. Eletronuclear—which manages the nuclear power complex—is an entirely state-owned subsidiary.</p> <p>Works were last stopped in 2015, when the federal government ran out of money to finish the nuclear plant having completed only two-thirds. Maintaining the <a href="">construction site</a> alone costs the government BRL 3 million every month, and now there is no guarantee it will ever be finished.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1079096"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>In the latest twist to the Angra 3 tale, the Federal Accounts Court—a sort of audit tribunal that monitors public spending—wants the government to prove that persisting with the building of the nuclear plant really <em>is</em> worth it, not only from an economic standpoint but also an energetical one. The project will consume at least another BRL 15.5 billion—besides the BRL 8.3 billion already spent—and once complete it will generate energy for around one million homes.</p> <p>A report by the Escolhas Institute and PSR—a consultancy specialized in energy issues—ranks Angra 3 as the most expensive energy source in Brazil. Even if the government decided to call it a day on the plant, dismantling the entire construction site and replacing it with solar power, consumers would save BRL 12.5 billion.</p> <p>&#8220;From an energy standpoint, building Angra 3 is just not worth it. If reactivating this plant has to do with maintaining Brazil&#8217;s nuclear program and military reasons, then the government must make that explicit,&#8221; said Sergio Leitão, founder of the Escolhas Institute, at the release of the report.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1464375"><script src=""></script></div> <h2>A military priority</h2> <p>The military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985 classified the development of a nuclear program as one of its priorities. The cover of newspaper <em>Folha de S.Paulo</em> on July 6, 1967, lead with the headline: ‘Since 1960, Brazil has had the means to build a nuclear weapon and now military officials are promising that the NUCLEAR DELAY WILL BE REMEDIEDʼ.</p> <p>According to journalist Elio Gaspari&#8217;s in-depth take on the military dictatorship, former President Ernesto Geisel said at a meeting of the National Security Council that &#8220;the government had no intention of building nuclear weapons, but we should leave the option open according to the circumstances.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="Jimmy Carter Ernesto Geisel" class="wp-image-32100" srcset=" 900w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px" /><figcaption>U.S. President Jimmy Carter (left) and General Ernesto Geisel. Brazil&#8217;s nuclear power goals put the country at odds with the U.S.</figcaption></figure> <p>In 1975, Brazil announced an ambitious agreement with West Germany to initiate a comprehensive local nuclear industrial complex, including a complete fuel cycle. Brazilian physicist José Goldemberg wrote about the deal in an article for the Nagasaki University&#8217;s <em>Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament</em>:</p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p><em>In what was branded the ‘deal of the century’, KWU (a subsidiary of Siemens) proposed setting up factories in Brazil to manufacture parts for the reactors, enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium for future use in ‘breeders’. The goal of the agreement was to achieve the installation, by 1990, of eight 1300 MW power reactors, built in the country with progressive indexes of nationalization, at a total cost of USD 10 billion.</em></p></blockquote> <p>João Baptista Figueiredo—President Geisel&#8217;s successor—declared in 1979 that it was imperative for the country to undertake nuclear energy development based on the fuel available within its own borders and by using its own technology. &#8220;It was important to guarantee a sovereign future for future generations,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>As Mr. Goldemberg would write, the plan would not be successful:</p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p><em>The Brazil–Germany deal crumbled under U.S. pressure due to its own weaknesses. Enrichment—which employed the untested ‘jet-nozzle’ process of uranium enrichment offered by the Germans after the U.S. vetoed the use of centrifuge enrichment—was abandoned and the Carter administration canceled existing guarantees to supply enriched uranium needed to refuel the Westinghouse Angra 1 nuclear power reactor.</em></p></blockquote> <p>Today, nuclear power accounts for just 3 percent of <a href="">Brazil&#8217;s energy mix</a>—and 40 percent of the supply in the state of Rio de Janeiro.</p> <h2>Environmental risks</h2> <p>As journalist Ciara Long wrote for <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, <a href="">environmental concerns around Brazil&#8217;s nuclear energy program</a> are another problem to be monitored.&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier this year, the National Mining Agency (ANM) found that Caldas—Brazil’s first uranium exploration and production site—had no guarantee of stability. A study on the same site from the Federal University of Ouro Preto also found that its dam system was compromised, risking erosion and potential rupture. The area contains an estimated 12,500 tons of waste and has yet to begin the decommissioning process necessary for disposal.</p> <p>In the case of a rupture, the waste would destroy the surrounding residential areas and filter into rivers in similar ways to the catastrophic dam failures of <a href="">Mariana</a> and <a href="">Brumadinho</a>.

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