Brazil Divided Over Building Third Nuclear Power Plant

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, June 15, 2005 (ENS) - The president of the Latin American section of the American Nuclear Energy Society (LAS), Zieli Dutra, says he is in favor of expanding the Brazilian nuclear power generating program. He says the country should build a third nuclear power plant, Angra 3, so as to reduce its dependence on foreign petroleum and gas. Critics warn of the danger of radioactive waste and the possibility of accidents or terrorist threats.

Speaking at the opening ceremonies of the annual LAS meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, Dutra declared that Brazil should take advantage of its ability to manufacture and enrich uranium, something that puts it in a better position than many other countries, according to the state-run news agency Agência Brasil.

"Nuclear energy has many uses. It can generate electricity. It has important uses in medicine. It can also substitute the natural gas we import from Bolivia to run thermoelectric power plants," said Dutra.

Pointing out that LAS does not interfere in domestic politics, but can recommend certain types of nuclear alternatives, Dutra said that, "LAS can show that nuclear energy is safe, especially the PWR-type reactors that are used in Brazil. They would never cause accidents like the one in Chernobyl."

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Zieli Dutra heads the Latin American section of the American Nuclear Energy Society. (Photo courtesy LAS)
A pressurized water reactor (PWR) is the most common type of nuclear power reactor in the world. In a PWR reactor, the primary coolant loop is pressurized so the water does not boil, and steam generators are used to transmit heat to a secondary coolant which is allowed to boil to produce steam for electricity generation.

In having this secondary loop the PWR differs from boiling water reactors, in which the primary coolant is allowed to boil in the reactor core and drive a turbine directly

With regard to the construction of Angra 3, Dutra said that currently it is being analyzed by the National Energy Policy Council at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, but would probably be approved this year.

The LAS meeting ends Thursday. It is attended by representatives from the four Latin American nations that have nuclear technology: Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. The main topic of discussion is the maintenance and expansion of nuclear programs in Latin America.

Around the world, nuclear capable countries are supporting a renewed focus on nuclear power as an alternative to coal, oil and natural gas, which produce greenhouse gas emissions when burned.

Critics point to the lack of safe disposal facilities for spent nuclear fuel, and the danger of catastrophic explosions and radiation leaks. They warn that if nuclear technology spreads, it would increase the danger of terrorists and rogue states acquiring the material to make nuclear weapons and dirty bombs.

In Brazil, nuclear power generation got off to a shaky start in 1985 when the commercial startup of the Angra 1 reactor was plagued with technical problems. Then in the early 1990s, the U.S. State Department blocked the supply of the fuel elements for the Westinghouse designed reactor. Radioactive leaks resulted from substitute fuel rods that were used instead.

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Brazil's 1309 megawatt nuclear power plant Angra 2 (Photo courtesy Electrobras Thermonuclear)
The country's second nuclear power plant Angra 2 began producing power on a commercial basis in July 2000, but not before a fight between the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Association and Greenpeace Brazil turned ugly.

Greenpeace campaigns against nuclear power and weapons throughout the world. The international organization started a Brazilian chapter in 1993, and one of its first campaign objectives was to limit the Brazilian nuclear industry.

Their initial goal was to collect 500,000 signatures on a petition calling for shutting down the Angra 1 plant, and an immediate halt to construction of Angra 2.

Guilherme Camargo, then director of the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Association, launched a campaign to discredit Greenpeace. "I said, we have to wipe out these guys. It was like a Western movie, a kind of 'Gunfight at OK Corral.' You kill or you die. And we destroyed these guys," Camargo told "21st Century Science & Technology" magazine in a 2001 interview. "The Greenpeace anti-nuclear manifesto was a disastrous failure."

For awhile Greenpeace Brazil focused its campaigns on issues of whaling, illegal logging and transgenic crops. But last month, the organization mounted another campaign against the resurgence of nuclear power in Brazil.

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Greenpeace Brazil displays a balloon that says "No Nukes" in São Paulo's Ibirapuera Park. (Photo by Jorge Cordiera courtesy Greenpeace Brazil)
Greenpeace Brazil took its anti-nuclear tour to 18 cities in 10 states and chose São Paulo's Ibirapuera Park to end the first phase of its campaign against Angra 3 and the renewal of the Brazilian nuclear program.

From now on, the Greenpeace campaign will be focused on monitoring the federal government and mobilizing organizations of the civil society against Angra 3. The minister of the Civil House, Jose Dirceu, has announced that he will present a new report favorable to the construction of Angra 3.

Greenpeace Brazil says the government is ignoring the concern of Environment Minister Marina Silva over the question of radioactive waste, and that the Ministry of Energy and Mines is also opposed to further nuclear development.

Marcelo Furtado, Greenpeace campaign director said in Ibirapuera Park that the organization will wait and hope that common sense prevails and the risks of nuclear development are not brushed aside.

In a recent poll by the Institute of Religious Studies, 80 percent of the Brazilians interviewed said they are against starting another nuclear project.