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Brazzil - Technology - April 2004

Trying to Stop Brazil's A-Bomb

Any Brazilian efforts towards building a nuclear weapon or for
that matter weapons grade material for the so-called 'credible
deterrent' could provoke neighboring Argentina to pursue its
shelved nuclear weapon program. This might trigger a nuclear
arms race in the Latin America like the one in South Asia.

Animesh Roul


Picture Consider this: "Brazil is going to be the first ever nuclear weapon state (NWS) in the Southern Hemisphere by 2010." The fear of Theodore Taylor, an American physicist and expert on nuclear weapons during the 1970s would be true, if Brazil produces the bomb.

Taylor had observed immediately after Brazil entered into an agreement with West Germany, that "Brazil will soon be able to produce enough plutonium for the country to reconstruct every two weeks a bomb."

It may sound farfetched, but the issue has been haunting the international community since October 2003, when a senior Brazilian official reportedly revealed a plan for Brazil to begin uranium enrichment by 2004 and to possibly export the product within a decade or so.

Since such a move would technically bestow Brazil the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been on its toes since then to restrain Brazil on its renewed, yet elusive ambition.

While the outgoing Science and Technology Minister, Roberto Amaral, had pointed out before his resignation, that the proposed uranium enrichment program was aimed at guaranteeing the country's energy supply, which is heavily dependent on hydro-electric power, the obvious doubts over the intention loomed large, when he himself hugged the limelight by arguing that Brazil should not rule out acquiring the ability to produce an atomic bomb.

Brazil has two nuclear plants: Angra-I and II, located on the coast south of Rio de Janeiro. Another plant, Angra III, which has been on the pipeline and considered as 'mothballed project' is sitting idle for the last one a half decades.

Under the renewed program, Brazil plans to invest US$ 87 million to produce 60 percent of all the uranium used at the two plants. The enrichment technology is, however, not new to Brazil. The country had developed its own ability by working with West Germany under an agreement signed in June 1975 as part of an ambitious strategy to supplement its energy requirements.

A signatory of the Non proliferation Treaty (NPT), Brazil had ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1998. Its nuclear program has been in compliance with safeguards established by the Brazil-Argentine Accounting and Control Agency (ABACC) and the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA since 1994 and moreover, it's for peaceful purposes.

The two neighboring nuclear weapon capable states had signed ABACC way back in 1991 to verify the peaceful nature of both states' nuclear activities by mutual inspections. Besides, both Brazil and Argentina are states-parties of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the nuclear-weapons-free zone treaty for Latin America.

Inspection Impasse

A recent diplomatic stand-off happened when U.N. nuclear inspectors were blocked from fully examining the uranium enrichment facility of Resende, near Rio de Janeiro in February and March on the pretext of protecting its indigenous technology.

The IAEA wants to visit Brazil's nuclear facilities to make sure that the country is not producing weapons grade material and probably to continue its investigation on the 'Khangate' and the global nuclear black market.

Brazil's current Science and Technology Minister, Eduardo Campos, has clarified that the inspectors had access to the uranium that would be sent to Canada for enrichment, but Brazil is 'not obliged to show the technology that took them years to develop'. According to him, the Brazilian centrifuges are 30 percent more efficient than those found in other countries.

The Brazilian government took a serious note of the U.S. President George W. Bush's February 11 announcement, which stated that "countries not already producing uranium should not be allowed to begin production" and "they could still receive nuclear fuel at a reasonable cost if they submit to rigorous IAEA inspections." The proposal was considered unacceptable in Brazil and caused resentment within the Brazilian nuclear establishment.

Unacceptable Deterrent

What would be the possible future implications? Conventional wisdom suggests that any Brazilian efforts towards building a nuclear weapon or for that matter weapons grade material for the so-called 'credible deterrent' could provoke neighboring Argentina to pursue its shelved nuclear weapon program, which could very well trigger a nuclear arms race in the Latin America. We have been through this experience already in South Asia. If allowed to go ahead, it will weaken efforts to make common standards to curb future proliferations.

It is still a possibility that Brazil could bargain not less than a place in the Security Council along with its allies South Africa and India (IBSA) to "counter unilateral tendencies in world politics," as said by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in January 2004 while visiting India.

Looking at the current nuclear impasse, Brazil's self confidence could be gauged by Lula's another statement when he reiterated that "dependency" and "submissiveness," have to put in a backseat to get noticed and command respect in world politics.

With the nuclear impasse intact, US technicians of the Brazil-United States Permanent Committee on Nuclear Energy Cooperation have visited the nuclear installations in Rio de Janeiro while US Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf and Directors of Brazil's National Nuclear Energy Commission met, on April 15, to discuss issues related to the nuclear sector, e.g., security, technology and safeguards. A day before, even the experts of the IAEA and the Argentine-Brazilian Nuclear Material Control Agency had a routine inspection of the nuclear installations.

Apprehension apart, an IAEA report on Brazil is expected in June 2004. At the same time, the United States' 'carrot and stick' tactics are on to refrain Brazil from enriching uranium and subsequent bomb. It would be worthwhile to watch whether Brazil is really interested to join the elite Nuclear Club or not.

Animesh Roul is a Security Analyst and Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India. Comments can be sent to animeshroul@hotmail.com

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