Nuclear power gathers momentum in Latin America

Dec 15, 2010 12:00 AM

Nuclear power could gradually become an ever more important source of electricity in Latin America as the region looks for other alternatives to soaring oil prices, according to recent analysis of its electric power sector. Nuclear power still represents about 3.1 % of the total electricity generation in the area, but the expectation is that in coming 10 years that percentage will double. This is provided the governments of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico carry-out their proposed expansion plans. There are already signs of an increase in the use of nuclear power: Brazil has already 2 reactors and is planning to install 1 more, while Argentina and Mexico expect to double the number of nuclear reactors available to-date.

According to estimates published by IPS, current nuclear power stations have an operational life of 15-20 years in Mexico and of 30 to 40 years in Argentina and Brazil. But the present plans are looking to prolong their operating life to 60 years.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the country's president, reactivated the country’s uranium enrichment plant. The facilities were updated within the framework of the reintroduced ‘Argentine Nuclear Plan’. The need to produce “nuclear power in a world with pollution problems and the need to produce energy has determined our achievable goals,”. She added that her country plans to recover “lost decades” on energy-related issues.
“We are not going to leave the development of the nuclear power because we cannot be deceived. I beg you all to assume this as the right we have as a nation to be part of the greatest technological development”,.
Argentina, together with other nations in the region with nuclear capabilities, is competing for the strategic control of its energy sources, and the greater development of its nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes is seen as key. It currently has 2 operating nuclear plants that provide 7 % of the electricity generated in the country: Embalse, the license of which expires in 2014, and Atucha I, which was the first nuclear power station in Latin America. Its operating life has been extended by an additional 10 years.

Mexico, on the other hand, has a single operating nuclear power station. Laguna Verde, which comprises two 682.5 MW reactors, is located 250 km north-east of the capital. The power station, which produces approximately 5 % of the country's electricity, belongs to the Federal Government of Mexico and is operated by the Federal Commission of Electricidad (CFE). It comprises 2 General Electric Boiling Water Reactors (BWR-5).

As is the case in many other countries in the region when it comes to nuclear power, environmental organizations in Mexico claim that Laguna Verde not only has a negative impact on the environment but that it is operated with minimal safety controls. The authorities continuously deny any wrongdoing. “We do not store plutonium or atomic bombs and Laguna Verde generates zero radiation,”.

Brazil is also at the forefront of nuclear power in the region. Official sources have expressed their ambition to turn Brazil’s uranium reserves, which are estimated to be the sixth largest in the world, into an important nuclear fuel source, IPS reports.
This South American nation has 2 nuclear reactors (Angra 1 & 2), and a third under construction (Angra 3), which are located 130 km west of city of Rio de Janeiro. It is estimated both units produce around 4 % of the electricity consumed in the country.

Like Argentina, Brazil has extended the operational life of its nuclear power stations from 40 to 60 years.
According to Dr Juan Luis Francois, Professor of Nuclear Engineering, at the independent National University of Mexico, the extension of the useful life of these existing nuclear plants is important to the Latin American region.
This is despite environmental campaign groups, such as Greenpeace Brazil, claiming faults and accidents “are an inherent part of nuclear technology”.

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