The Brazilian Nuclear Program

Brazil is now living a special moment in the history of its nuclear activities.

In Brazil, research in the nuclear field was started in 1945, the year in which nuclear energy became well-known worldwide because of its worst feature, the destructive power of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, Brazil has played a key role in the international scenario, also because of our great natural reserves of uranium and thorium.

Between the 1940s and the 1980s, Brazil developed a great capacity in all the nuclear areas, including power generation, the fuel cycle and medical and industrial applications, always respecting the most advanced safety standards adopted internationally. In the early 1990s, the nuclear area experienced its worst stage. Arguing about the need for transparency in our activities, so as to guarantee that no projects were being developed for the construction of nuclear artifacts, the government —applying a regime of budgetary reduction and containment— practically vanished the expansion programs, as well as the progress of the projects underway, and even the areas of safety and control. After a period of slight recovery in the 1990s, we entered the first period of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government in a peculiar situation: in spite of being the sixth oil reserve in the world, while only 30% of our territory was submitted to prospecting works down to 100 meters, in spite of being one of the 10 countries mastering the enrichment technology, in spite of having a market of radiopharmaceuticals that is growing at a 10% annual rate, the country was running the risk of loosing the acquired training because discontinuity in the activities and of the aging and retirement of the specialized personnel.

During those nearly 60 years, there were also external pressures aimed at restricting the Brazilian program in the nuclear area, because of the economic and strategic relevance of the sector. Within this context, the agreement with Argentina —further on extended to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)— and, within its framework, the creation of the ABACC were fundamental in order to provide the world with a guarantee of the peaceful intensions of the nuclear activities in Brazil and Argentina.

The priority assigned to the nuclear area by the Ministry of Health and Technology (MCT) since the beginning of Lula’ government was essential in changing the scene. In 2004, the Casa Civil entrusted the MCT to perform a review of the Brazilian Nuclear Policy (PNB), a task that was delegated to the National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN). All the officials of the various entities in the nuclear sector were summoned and a first version was completed only in early 2005. Then, a process of intensive discussions arose, not only in the governmental areas, but also in the society as a whole, with frequent clarifications and papers for diffusion in scientific and technical events, in the sessions of the Chamber of Deputies and of the Federal Senate, as well as interviews with the media.

The process concluded with the approval by the Power Generation Board —headed by the Brazilian president—, on the 25th June 2007, of the restart of the construction of the Angra 3 nuclear power plant; 70% of the equipment —built in Germany— was purchased and stored in Brazil more than 10 years ago, with annual cost of over 22 million US dollars. Ironically, for this reason, Brazil became one of the great specialists of the world in the safe storage of mechanical parts. In turn,

The rest of the nuclear activities —the fuel cycle, medical and industrial applications, and regulation and control, in charge of the MCT— are contemplated in the Plan of Action in Science and Technology 2007-2010, considering that the goal is self-sufficiency in all of these fields, which would be reached already in 2014, when Angra 3 should be in operation. Of course, the MCT has also contemplated the training of human resources for the whole project, considering that only Angra 3 will be the source of five thousand direct jobs.

As it can be seen, nowadays, the nuclear area is considered as strategic and the government is trying to make it not only a governmental project, but a State program, similarly to what is occurring in other areas, such as economy, social policies and power generation policy. This allows to visualize a new era for the nuclear community, including the ABACC, which plays a fundamental role, not only in what refers to safeguards and the certainty of non proliferation, but also in maintaining the transparency of our activities before the IAEA and Argentina, the latter our main ally in this field.

We expect that this commitment will be respected by forthcoming governments.


Sérgio Rezende

Minister of Science and Technology of Brazil