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.
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.
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.
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