While we were looking elsewhere:
There are four countries in Latin America with nuclear power plants: Cuba, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, but here’s what’s in the news regarding recent nuclear agreements in Latin America:
Wednesday last week, the Guardian reported, Russia to build nuclear reactor for Chávez
• Deal after surge of activity by Moscow in region
• New foreign policy challenge for Obama
Russia’s deepening strategic partnership with Venezuela took a dramatic step forward yesterday when it emerged that Moscow has agreed to build Venezuela’s first ever nuclear reactor.
President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, during a visit to Latin America next week, part of a determined Russian push into the region.
The reactor is to be named after Humberto Fernandez Moran, a late Venezuelan research scientist and former science minister, Chávez has announced. It is one of many accords he hopes to sign while hosting Medvedev in Caracas next week.
The prospect of a nuclear deal between Moscow and Caracas, following a surge in Russian economic, military, political and intelligence activity in Latin America, is likely to alarm the US and present an early challenge to the Obama administration.
“Hugo Chávez joins the nuclear club,” Russian’s Vedomosti newspaper trumpeted yesterday.
Cuba’s nuclear plants may present a threat to the US, but for a different reason: Cuba’s crumbling infrastructure: As this 1992 Heritage Foundation report explains, the two Soviet-designed VVER-440 nuclear reactors in Juragua, near Cienfuegos, just 250 miles from Miami, are mired in faulty design, shipshod construction, and the support structure of the plants contains numerous faulty seals and structural defects.
A Libyan official says Argentina’s visiting president has offered her country’s help in developing nuclear energy in the North African nation.
Libyan Cabinet official Mohammed al-Mesmari says the Argentine leader also signed agreements in trade, agriculture and science during her meeting with Moammar Gadhafi.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s six-day tour of North Africa also included stops in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. The trip was meant in part to help ensure developing countries aren’t forgotten in efforts to solve the financial crisis.
Argentina has also helped build atomic reactors in Algeria and Egypt.
Argentina has three power stations: two in Atucha and one in Embalse, and back in 2006 pledged more funds to catch up with Brazil’s nuclear program.
Brazil and Argentina have had, at times, their own nuclear weapons race. According to this Global Security.org report,
Brazil pursued a covert nuclear weapons program in response to Argentina’s program. It developed a modest nuclear power program, enrichment facilities (including a large ultracentrifuge enrichment plant and several laboratory-scale facilities), a limited reprocessing capability, a missile program, a uranium mining and processing industry, and fuel fabrication facilities. Brazil was supplied with nuclear materials and equipment by West Germany (which supplied reactors, enrichment and reprocessing facilities), France, and the US. The country has a dependable raw material base for developing atomic power engineering, highly skilled scientific cadres have been trained, technologies for enriching uranium have been obtained, and there are several nuclear research centers.
Brazil’s nuclear capabilities are the most advanced in Latin America; only Argentina has provided serious competition. Brazil has two nuclear power plants in operation (Angra I and Angra II) and one under construction (Angra III). Its fissile material production program was multifaceted, with the military services involved in separate projects: the navy, centrifuge enrichment; the air force, laser enrichment; and the army, gas graphite reactor for plutonium production.
According to the report, Brazil claims to not want to develop a nuclear weapons program at present. Blogger Jason Poblete questions Brazil’s lack of transparency in their claims: Elhefnawy: The Next Wave of Nuclear Proliferation, Regional Considerations
Latin America has already had a mini-nuclear technological race fueled by Brazil and Argentina. Argentina has generally come clean on this matter, yet crucial questions remain regarding Brazil’s commitment on weaponization. As I wrote in October, “[t]he U.S. and regional powers need to ensure that the South American nuclear genie stays in the bottle.”
As Elhefnawy reminds readers, “long-established research strongly indicates that the motivation to build nuclear weapons is more of a factor than simply achieving the technological capacity … [t]he relative ease with which the weapons might be built is proof of this; a program to develop a minimal capability from scratch could cost as little as $500 million, less than the price of a modern warship.”
Among friends and allies, it is not impolite to raise tough issues. Brazil has obligations as a growing economic power in the region that go beyond traditional hemispheric issues such as expanding free trade, rule of law, and combating the illegal drug trade or terrorism. With vast uranium reserves, an advanced propulsion program, as well as a military-run and managed civilian nuclear program, Brazil needs to come clean on its nuclear ambitions.
The Bush Administration has done a good job in laying a foundation for the incoming Administration. Despite ideological differences between the two leaders, President Bush and President DaSilva have reached agreements in various areas of importance to both countries including in such areas as biofuels, regional security, and combatting terrorism. While non-proliferation has been discussed, Brazil’s needs to do better. Brazil’s support of the Iranian nuclear program should, and facilitating Iran’s entry in the Americas, should also be on the table.
I’ll be talking about this topic in today’s podcast at 10AM Eastern. Chat’s open by 9:45AM and the call-in number is 646 652-2639.
You can listen to the podcast here