|Brazil's Angra 3 |
(conceptual image via Merco Press)
Lurking below that ordinary sounding press statement are two problems that could point to deeper issues. The first is a court suit based on a procurement protest for $1 billion in electrical and mechanical equipment has stalled efforts to stay on schedule. Second, there are reports that Germany, which had been on tap to provide export credits to finance the project has pulled them because of that government's wholesale retreat from nuclear power.
The procurement issue involves a Brazilian firm that claims it was excluded from bidding on the project. A court agreed and now EBR and the firms involved must work out a solution.
In terms of export credits, according to a translation of documents from the German parliament, Green Party members launched a determined drive to stop the (euro) 1.3 billion package last April. The group said the design of Angra 3 was not tested with regard to safety issues raised by the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan.
"The Federal Government has not decided on the export credit guarantee for the completion of the Brazilian nuclear power plant “Angra 3”. An additional report requested after the events of Fukushima has revealed that there is a lack documents on some essential security aspects. Thus the operator’s stress test of the plant has not been completed. "
Brazil will have to find another source of funding if the export credits are called off. Areva, which is providing the engineering and construction services for Angra 3, helped get the export credits in 2009. The French state owned nuclear giant has since encountered problems of its own in terms of raising capital for its uranium enrichment projects. It is unlikely Areva would to be able to finance the Brazilian project. However, Areva has pointed out to the German government it employs more than 5,000 people in Germany and some of them work on the Angra 3 project.
This isn't a new issue for Germany or Brazil. The two nations have had an on again/off again relationship relative to nuclear cooperation since 1975. The U.S. has intervened in it, diplomatically speaking, because of a desire to prevent either Brazil or Argentina from pursuing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. A January 2009 assessment of nonproliferation issues between the two countries shows a number of issues that are labeled as "unresolved" by Carnegie Endowment.
Uranium history and outlook
industrial level enrichment at a small plant at Resende in 2009. Capacity will be added through 2015 to supply fuel to the completed Angra 3 reactor. The country is aiming for self-sufficiency in uranium supplies and nuclear fuel production.
The country's estimated reserves place it in the global top ten in terms of nations with active mining of the metal. The government controls all exports, but does not promote it to the dismay of private mining firms who think its uranium deposits may rival those of Australia. These claims could be home grown hype since the government's long standing policy has been it doesn't care how much ore is there as long as it stays in Brazil. The exception is a military regime in the early 1980s secretly exported uranium to Iraq and the disclosure of that act remains a source of suspicion about Brazil's nuclear intentions.
On the other hand, in 2011 Brazil offered to guarantee commercial nuclear fuel to Iran if it would ship its growing inventory of enriched material to Turkey for safekeeping. The U.S. rejected the idea, but the offer resulted in a huge increase in exports of Brazilian beef to Iran.
Brazil's future nuclear plans
The country has two operating nuclear reactors with a combined capacity of about 1.9 Gwe. They meet about three percent of the nation's needs for electricity. The country gets 70 percent of electric power from hydro sources. Vast areas of the country have no electricity.
Prior to the events in Fukushima, the government said it wanted to build at least five, and as many as eight, new nuclear power plants by 2030. Since then it has pushed this program back to a start date of sometime after 2020, but it has not abandoned its plans.
In May of this year energy minister Marcio Zimmerman said a new energy plan will indicate a start date for new nuclear projects in 2022, a two year delay caused by consideration of Fukushima safety issues.
Brazil's neighbor Argentina has two operating CANDU PHWRs, for a total of 935 MW, with a third 600 MW PHWR expected to come online in mid-2013. Plans for additional reactors are not complete though two more PHWRs are on the government's list for action.
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