By MARIO OSAVA
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 18, 2000 (IPS) – Despite resistance from environmentalists, Brazil looks pretty well set to complete its third nuclear power plant, as urged by industry experts and business leaders at a congress on nuclear energy here.
Business leaders as well as executives and technicians of the state-owned nuclear power companies and the National Commission on Nuclear Energy, which regulates the sector, presented President Fernando Henrique Cardoso with a document arguing in favour of the completion of Angra III.
Brazil has already spent 1.3 billion dollars purchasing 80 percent of the necessary equipment, while 70 percent of the engineering project is ready, states the document.
The experts also underlined the importance of the 1,300 MWh that would be generated by the plant, which is located in southeastern Brazil, the region of highest electricity consumption, but which lacks energy sources.
The third plant is also necessary for the economic viability of the complex built in the country for producing nuclear fuel, added Everton de Carvalho, president of the Brazilian Association of Nuclear Energy, which links experts and entities in the sector.
Brazil already has two nuclear power plants operating in Angra dos Reis, a coastal municipality 130 kms from Rio de Janeiro, where the third plant would also function.
The first, Angra I, was purchased from the U.S. corporation Westinghouse and began to operate in 1984. But frequent problems and consequent shut-downs gave rise to its nickname “firefly”, and led to growing resistance to the use of nuclear energy in Brazil.
The second plant, which began to operate last July, 17 years behind schedule, was already shut down for the first time two weeks ago, due to a faulty transformer, according to Firmino Sampaio, the president of Eletrobras, the company that coordinates the state’s power utilities.
Angra II was the first plant built in the framework of a cooperation agreement between Brazil and Germany, signed 25 years ago, which entailed the construction of eight plants, financing and the transfer of technology for an ambitious nuclear energy programme.
As part of that agreement, plants for the production of equipment and fuel were to be built, based on the processing of Brazilian uranium.
But the foreign debt crisis that shook Latin America in the 1980s and the weakening of the 21-year military regime, which ended in 1985, brought the programme to a halt, led to the cancellation of several projects, and held up the completion of Angra II, the cost of which soared to around 6.6 billion dollars, according to Eletronuclear, the state company that administers the nuclear power plants.
Although Brazil toned down its ambitions in that area, it did master the technology of enriching uranium, and made progress on its plans to produce nuclear fuel.
The programme to build eight nuclear plants, however, was abandoned, and the only remaining question is whether or not to complete Angra III.
Energy sector authorities want to go ahead with the project, arguing that the growth of the Brazilian economy, the world’s eighth largest, will require a large increase in energy supplies, and that the cost of completing the plant would not be great, given that most of the equipment has already been acquired.
The government estimates that around one billion reals (540 million dollars) would be needed to complete the plant investment that should be financed by Germany, according to the agreement still in effect, which stipulates that the German firm Siemens is to help install the plant.
But there is a risk that the German government may cancel the agreement, as demanded by the Green Party there. In that case, Brazil would demand indemnification, said President Cardoso on a visit to Germany last week, in a declaration that indicated that he was in favour of completing Angra III.
If Germany decides to abandon the project, Eletrobras could cover the costs of completing Angra III, said Sampaio, the president of Eletrobras.
The prospect of an energy shortage in Brazil is real. In fact, the country may have to start rationing in the next southern hemisphere summer, admitted Luis Pinguelli, an energy expert at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, and a detractor of Brazil’s nuclear programme.
But Angra III will not resolve the problem, because it will not cover demand. Furthermore, it will take several years to complete, said the professor, who foresees three tough years, until several of the 49 projected thermoelectric plants to run on natural gas piped in from Bolivia begin to operate.
One of the main reasons environmentalists are opposed to nuclear energy is because there is no solution to the problem of nuclear waste, as a bill regulating the disposal and treatment of such waste is only now nearing approval in Congress.
Also being discussed since Monday by the roughly 800 experts and business leaders meeting through Friday in the Eighth General Congress on Nuclear Energy in Rio de Janeiro is the question of the use of nuclear energy in medicine and agriculture, particularly in the preservation of foods. (END/IPS/tra-so/mo/sw/00)
Copyright © 2000. Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.