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Brazzil - Technology - April 2004
 

Brazil to US: Keep Your Eyes Off Our Nukes

Brazil considers inadmissible a US proposal that the Brazilian
government signs an additional protocol on nuclear energy. José
Luiz Santana, a nuclear scientist and professor at the Federal
University of Rio de Janeiro says that the US idea contains
conditions that violate Brazilians' citizenship.

Nádia Faggiani


Brazil can negotiate, but it will decide as a sovereign country the terms of a possible additional agreement for international inspections of Brazilian uranium enrichment facilities. That was the message to the world from Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, during a public hearing at Brazil's House of Representatives.

"This issue of accepting the additional protocol has no deadline to be signed, but must be analyzed with calm and poise, concerning the countries involved and concerning our technology in order that we are able to make a decision in a sovereign way, when the time is ripe."

From the moment it proposed the construction of a uranium treatment plant in Resende, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has faced political duels with the United States government and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They demand access to the entire system of the installation, even before its inauguration, which is scheduled for July.

Interviewed on the National Radio's Brazil Magazine ("Revista Brasil") program, José Luiz Santana, a nuclear scientist and professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said that he believes that accusations in Sunday's edition of the Washington Post newspaper, accusing Brazil of blocking access by IAEA inspectors, are a reflection of the US government's "pressure tactics" concerning this matter.

The US proposed that Brazil sign an Additional Protocol on nuclear energy. Santana considers this proposal inadmissible. "The American government's proposal contains conditions that violate our citizenship," he said. He explained that the document will "assure the right of international inspectors to enter the country when they want and enter installations without asking permission."

The Brazilian scientist believes that the US has no reason for concern, since Brazil's objectives are peaceful, in accordance with the Constitution. "Since the end of the `80's, we have had the capability to develop an atomic bomb. But our path is pacifistic," he said.

Santana defended the Brazilian government's decision to hide the machinery in the Resende nuclear plant behind screens, making it impossible for inspectors to get a full view. "Industrial technologies should be kept secret, because they have commercial value and add up to financial returns through systems, software programs, and equipment," he asserted.

Uranium Rich

Uranium, after it is enriched, is one of the elements used to produce nuclear energy. The ore is readily available in Brazil: The country possesses 309 thousand tons, according to estimates by the Nuclear Industries of Brazil (INB), an entity linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology. The reserves are located in the states of Minas Gerais, Bahia, Ceará, and Paraná.

The material is employed in various areas, such as nuclear medicine, industry, and aviation. The production of enriched uranium can save Brazil US$ 19 million every 14 months. However, the manipulation of this mineral arouses uneasiness among other nations with respect to its utilization. If it is enriched to a 90 percent base, uranium can serve as the active element in atomic bombs used for mass destruction.

On Tuesday, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations released the following official note on the country's uranium enrichment plant:

"Brazil's nuclear program, as the Brazilian constitution requires, is exclusively for peaceful ends and has been in compliance with safeguards established by the Brazil-Argentine Accounting and Control Agency (ABACC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1994.

"Doubts have never been raised about Brazilian compliance with international norms and treaties dealing with these matters and to which Brazil is a signatory nation: the Tlatelolco Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as the Nuclear Test Prohibition Treaty, although the latter is no longer in effect because it was not ratified by all nations possessing nuclear weapons.

Brazil is building a commercial uranium enrichment plant in order to supply nuclear fuel for a company in Resende, Rio de Janeiro (Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB)). The uranium enriched in this plant does not reach a high level of concentration; on the contrary, the concentration level of enrichment is only 5 percent.

The resultant enriched uranium will fuel the Brazilian nuclear power plants, Angra 1 and II, which are now operational, and a third power plant, Angra III, under construction. The main equipment in the plant are ultra centrifuges which were developed domestically.

Although the Resende uranium enrichment plant is still not operational, Brazil is presently engaged in discussions with the ABACC and AIEA regarding safeguards for it. The Brazilian government is not imposing any conditions that would make adequate application of effective, reliable safeguards unfeasible.

Other Brazilian installations already have established safeguard procedures and do not have any outstanding problems with the AIEA.

With regard to the Resende plant, Brazil wishes to guarantee that the safeguard procedures adopted will respect two principles established in the above-mentioned agreements: on one hand, make it possible for regulatory agencies to exert effective control on the nuclear material used, and, on the other hand, to ensure that Brazil can protect technological secrets and its commercial interests.

At this moment negotiations for verification procedures. which will guarantee the complete control of the material produced at the Resende plant, including the level of enrichment, are underway with the AIEA. The proposed procedures have already been accepted by the ABACC.

The Brazilian government considers it unacceptable to attempt to compare Brazil with other countries that have recently been found engaging in secret or undeclared nuclear activities. Brazil has rigorously complied with the Guadalajara Agreement, the Four Party Agreement, the Tlatelolco Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In view of the fact that there has been an absence of progress in disarmament, the Brazilian government calls on those countries actively involved in non-proliferation to be coherent with the general objectives of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and prepare for the 2005 conference that will review non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament progress made since the last conference in 2000 with the objective of eventually achieving complete elimination of atomic arsenals."

The Washington Post Version

On April 4, the Washington Post published an article alleging that Brazil is not allowing experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the uranium enrichment plant that is under construction in Resende, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

According to the newspaper, the Brazilian refusal could create a precedent for other countries. The story was also covered by the New York Times and the CNN television network.

The Ministry of Science and Technology denied that Brazil is hindering the access of nuclear weapons inspectors to the Brazilian uranium enrichment facility in Resende. "Any speculation that casts doubt on the peaceful intentions of the Brazilian nuclear project is unacceptable," Minister Eduardo Campos declared through his advisory staff.

According to the Ministry, the Resende installations produce enriched uranium for electric energy generation, not the purer type that can be used in nuclear weapons. The Ministry confirmed that international inspectors visited the Brazilian Nuclear Industry (INB) in February and March of this year and, throughout the installation, the only area to which they were denied access was the centrifuge that produces the enriched uranium. This is a way to "protect" the technology used in the equipment, according to the government.

The Ministry guarantees that Brazil is negotiating with the IAEA on the use of other inspection methods when the Resende industrial plant begins operations, experimentally, in October.

"The Constitution itself determines the use of nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes. Brazil is a signatory of nuclear arms non-proliferation treaties and has always condemned terrorism," the Minister also affirmed.


Nádia Faggiani works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at
lia@radiobras.gov.br


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