Argentina expands nuclear program to catch up with Brazil

Buenos Aires says it would invest up to $3.5 billion on peaceful purposes

Almost four years after Brazil announced its intentions to launch a new nuclear program, the other South American nation that has developed such technology, Argentina, Wednesday confirmed it would invest about $3.5 billion over eight years to update its power plants and possibly resume uranium mining. The announcement came as a government response to rising energy demands in the country, whose power supplying system has proved to be uncapable to meet the requirements of a recovering economy.

At a Government House news conference, Planning Minister Julio de Vido said the plan calls for increasing the life span of the aging Atucha I and Embalse nuclear power plants and completing construction by 2010 on the long-stalled Atucha II plant.Two decades of delays have hampered completion of the Atucha II project, located some 75 miles northwest of the capital of Buenos Aires.

"When this government took office in 2003, the nuclear energy sector was reactivating," De Vido said. "Today we come to establish a strategic plan for the Argentine nuclear energy sector for the coming years."

In an attempt to sort out doubts over the intentions of the Argentine authorities, De Vido and other top Argentine officials confirmed that the nuclear program pursues peaceful purposes only.

“The Argentine nuclear development will fulfill with all international legal standards for the peaceful use of the atomic energy”, said Minister De Vido. However, who is considered as one of the most powerful members of the Argentine cabinet, did not comment on press reports that Argentina might revive a uranium enrichement program shut down in 1983 due to budget restrictions.

According to the Argentine daily Clarin, Mr. De Vido admitted that Argentina is trying to reactivate is uranium enrichement program to catch up with neighbour Brazil that has inaugurated a uranium enrichment center capable of producing nuclear fuel to meet the increasing regional and international demand last May. Enrichment provides the fuel needed to operate such nuclear plants, but can also be a central to building nuclear weapons.

Argentina is one of the leading Latin American nations in nuclear power generation, but has faced potential energy shortfalls in recent years. As early as in the fifties, Argentina created the National Commission for Atomic Energy, which put into function the Atucha I power plant in the mid-1970’s in conjunction with the Embalse plant in center of the country.

Despite periodic financial crisis, Argentina has never halted its nuclear researches. Buenos Aires has sold its nuclear technology to Australia and Algeria, as well as signed cooperation deals with Canada, the US and Russia.

Along with Brazil, Argentina is seeking new energy sources to counter crude oil prices that have passed $70 a barrel, along with soaring prices in natural gas and other fuels.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov