Brazil and Argentina are intent on addressing the creation of a binational nuclear energy agency when presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from Argentina and Brazil respectively, meet next month in Recife, the capital of the Brazilian northeastern state of Pernambuco.
"It would be far more efficient to establish a broad binational agency which not only was involved in uranium enrichment but also in other opportunities and needs for both countries and the wider South American market in the fields of health, agriculture and pharmaceuticals," Alfredo Tranjan Filho, president of Brazil's Nuclear Industries is quoted in the conservative daily O Estado de S. Paulo.
The agency could become one of the world's leading providers of enriched uranium which is one of the objectives of the Brazilian government added Tranjan. The agency is being created, however, withÂ a restriction: Argentina will not get Brazil's technology of enriching uranium by centrifugation.
Besides plans from Chile, Uruguay, Peru and Venezuela to set up nuclear plants, Argentina has two in operation, is finishing a third, Atucha II, and is planning to build two more.
Brazil has Angra I, Angra II, is planning Angra III and six more by 2030, revealed the Brazilian official.
The binational nuclear agency is one of 17 agreements reached in the recent meeting by presidents Kirchner and Lula when the Coben (Comitê Binacional de Energia Nuclear – Binational Nuclear Energy Committee) was announced.
However Coben does not have the full support of the Brazilian establishment, particularly from the Brazilian Navy which for years has been working in the development of a nuclear powered submersible and allegedly is very jealous of its expertise and experience.
Uruguay also is thinking about resorting to nuclear energy to meet the growing demand for electricity and cut dependency on fossil fuels, announced President Tabare Vazquez from Israel, the first leg of a tour which will also take him to Switzerland and South Korea.
Vazquez said that on his return to Uruguay he will invite opposition leaders to a round of talks to consider the issue which needs congressional approval since nuclear energy and related activities are specifically banned in the country.
"It's a good idea but there's nothing new about it," said opposition Senator Sergio Abreu who recalled his party has on several occasions proposed the elimination of article 27 from Bill 16.832 which specifically bans nuclear energy production and distribution.
"Actually the article is nonsense and it is permanently violated since at times Uruguay receives electricity from Argentina which includes a nuclear component in its national grid." added Abreu. Anyhow "any round of talks must begin by the explicit government commitment to eliminate the article."
Vazquez said a special committee of experts was considering the issue which is expected to make a presentation at the end of September, however "it will be fifteen years before any nuclear plant can become operational and begin producing energy."
Both neighbors Argentina and Brazil have nuclear plants for electricity generation and have ambitious expansion plans. The Uruguayan committee has visited Argentine plants, existing, half built and on the drawing board.
Energy Office director Ramon Mendez described the program as a "great challenge" for Uruguay, a matter of "energy sovereignty" and said that with a strong political consensus the timetable can be significantly reduced once the feasibility and assessment reports are completed and approved. However he cautioned about the public opinion debate, "this is a most delicate issue and discussion should be limited to those who really understand about nuclear energy and all its implications."
"We're short of energy and so are our powerful neighbors. Any contribution to address the challenge should be welcome and help Uruguay cut its outside dependency," insisted Abreu who recalled that at least 438 such plants are operational worldwide. "China only is planning 30 for 2020."
However if the initiative finally takes off and the environmentalists can be fenced off, it will mean another U turn for the ruling coalition of President Vazquez, which sponsored and promoted the famous article 27 with strong political rallies and street demonstrations.
Actually when Uruguay recovered democracy in 1985, during the first administration of President Julio Maria Sanguinetti, Canada offered to provide a Cantu nuclear reactor, which operates on natural (non enriched) uranium plus infrastructure and equally important a nuclear energy school so the country could prepare its engineers and experts to manage the plant.
However the whole project was frustrated because the current ruling coalition, then in the opposition, radically opposed the initiative and took to the streets to protest.