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Nuclear Power in Brazil

(Updated March 2014)

  • Brazil has two nuclear reactors generating 3% of its electricity, and a third under construction.
  • Its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1982.
  • Four more large reactors are proposed to come on line in the 2020s.

Nuclear energy provides about 3% of Brazil's electricity. In 2011, gross production in the country was 532 billion kWh, including 428 TWh from hydro, 25 TWh from gas, 32 TWh from biomass and wastes, 15.7 TWh from nuclear, 12.5 TWh from coal, 14.8 TWh from oil, and 3.26 TWh from wind and solar. Net import was about 42 TWh. Per capita electricity consumption in Brazil has grown strongly from under 1500 kWh/yr in 1990 to nearly 2700 kWh/yr in 2011.

The high dependence on hydro gives rise to some climatic vulnerability which is driving policy to diminish dependence on it. A major drought in 2001 led to acute shortage of power. Despite this, in February 2010 the government approved $9.3 billion investment in the new 11.2 GWe Belo Monte hydro scheme, which will flood 500 sq km of the Amazon basin and supply about 11% of the country's electricity. However the scope for further hydro-electric development is perceived to be limited.

About 40% of Brazil's electricity is produced by the national Eletrobrás Systema. About 20% of electricity is from state-owned utilities, and the rest is from privately-owned companies. No private investment in nuclear power is allowed, though this is under review.

Nuclear industry development in Brazil

Brazil began developing nuclear technology in 1951 under the newly-established National Research Council, but accelerated this under a military regime from 1964 to 1985. In 1970, the government decided to seek bids for an initial nuclear plant. The turnkey contract for Angra 1 was awarded to Westinghouse, and construction started in 1971 at a coastal site between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. This is now the Central Nuclear Almirante Álvaro Alberto complex in Rio de Janeiro state, 130 km west of Rio.

In 1975, the government adopted a policy to become fully self-sufficient in nuclear technology and signed an agreement with West Germany for the supply of eight 1300 MWe nuclear units over 15 years. The first two (Angra 2 and 3) were to be built immediately, with equipment from Kraftwerk Union (KWU)b. The rest were to have 90% Brazilian content under the technology transfer agreement. To effect this, a state-owned company Empresas Nucleares Brasileiras S.A. (Nuclebrás) was set up with a number of subsidiaries focused on particular aspects of engineering and the nuclear fuel cycle.

However, Brazil's economic problems meant that construction of the first two Brazilian-German reactors was interrupted, and the whole program was reorganised at the end of the 1980s. In 1988, a new company, Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil S.A. (INB) took over the front end fuel cycle subsidiaries of Nuclebrás. Responsibility for construction of Angra 2 & 3 was transferred to the utility Furnas Centrais Elétricas S.A. (Furnas), a subsidiary of Eletrobrás. However, Nuclen, a former Nuclebrás subsidiary that also had KWU participation, remained as the nuclear plant architect and engineering company. Construction of Angra 2 resumed in 1995, with US$ 1.3 billion of new investment provided by German banks, Furnas and Eletrobrás. Then in 1997, the nuclear operations of Furnas merged with Nuclen to form Eletrobrás Termonuclear S.A. (Eletronuclear), a new subsidiary of Eletrobrásc and responsible for all construction and operation of nuclear power plants. No private utilities may build or operate nuclear power plants, though in 2013 this was under review.

Heavy equipment manufacturing remains the responsibility of former Nuclebrás subsidiary Nuclebrás Equipamentos Pesados S.A. (Nuclear Heavy Equipment, NUCLEP). Both NUCLEP and INB are subsidiaries of – but administratively independent of – the National Nuclear Energy Commission (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear, CNEN), and report directly to the Ministry of Science and Technology (Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia). Eletrobrás, which owns Eletronuclear, comes under the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

There is a continuing military influence on Brazil’s nuclear program. Brazil is the only non-nuclear-weapon state in which the military leases uranium enrichment technology to the civilian nuclear program, and the navy drives technological advances in the nuclear field. Also Brazil is the only non-nuclear-weapon state developing a nuclear-powered submarine.

Current status of Brazil's nuclear power industry

Angra 1 suffered continuing problems with its steam supply system and was shut down for some time during its first few years. Its lifetime load factor over the first 15 years was only 25%, but since 1999 it has been much better. Civil works on Angra 2 started in 1976 and, due to a lack of financial resources and a lower than expected growth in demand, only commenced operation at the end of 2000.

Operating Brazilian power reactors

Reactor Model Net capacity First power Commercial
operation
Angra 1 PWR 626 MWe 1982 1/1985
Angra 2 PWR 1270 MWe 2000 12/2000
Total (2)   1896 MWe  

Angra 3 was designed to be a twin of unit 2. Work started on the project in 1984 but was suspended in 1986 before full construction began. Around 70% of the equipment is on site, full construction did not begin and work on the project was suspended in 1986.

In November 2006 the government announced plans to complete Angra 3 and also build four further 1000 MWe nuclear plants from 2015 at a single site. Angra 3 construction approval was confirmed by Brazil's National Energy Policy Council in June 2007 and received Presidential approval in July. Environmental approval was granted in March and all other approvals by July 2009. It will essentially be the same as unit 2 but with digital instrumentation and control systems. In December 2008, Eletronuclear signed an industrial cooperation agreement with Areva, confirming that Areva will complete Angra 3 and be considered for supplying further reactors. Areva also signed a services contract for Angra 1.

First concrete for Angra 3 was in June 2010, closely following the construction licence from the National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN). The plant was expected in operation at the end of 2015 after 66 months. In November 2013, in line with the 2008 agreement, it awarded a EUR 1.25 billion ($1.7 billion) contract to Areva for engineering services and components, digital instrumentation and control system, supervision of installation works and commissioning of the unit. Two Brazilian consortia bid for installation contracts. One is for electro-mechanical assembly associated with the reactor’s primary system, valued at around BRL 1.31 billion ($640 million), and another is for secondary-side work, estimated at BRL 1.67 billion ($816 million). Both were awarded in February 2014. At the end of 2013 the plant was about half completed.

In December 2010 Brazilian national development bank BNDES approved BRL 6.1 billion (US$ 3.6 billion) in financing for Angra 3, covering almost 60% of the then estimated cost of BRL 9.9 billion. In December 2012 state-owned Caixa Economica Federal bank agreed to lend BRL 3.8 billion ($1.86 billion) to Eletrobras for completion of the plant. Total estimated cost is now $7.59 billion.

Brazilian power reactors under construction and proposed

Reactor Model Gross capacity Construction start Commercial operation
Angra 3 PWR 1405 MWe (1270 MWe net) June 2010 Dec 2015
Northeast, Pernambuco PWRx4 6000-6600 MWe   2020s
Southeast, Minas Gerais PWRx4 4000-6000 MWe   2020s

Economically, power from existing nuclear plants at about $75/MWh is about 1.5 times more expensive than that from established hydro, and power from Angra 3 is expected to be slightly over twice as expensive as old hydro, about the same as that from coal and cheaper than that from gas. Overall, including Angra 3 in projections reduces network prices slightly.

Eletronuclear has proposed building two new nuclear plants in the northeast and two more near Angra in the southeast.1. At the end of 2009, it commenced initial siting studies.  Early in 2013 two sites were under final appraisal: one in the northeast on a large dam on the Sao Francisco River between Pernambuco and Bahia states for up to 6600 MWe, and one in the north of Minas Gerais state  in the southeast of the country for 4000-6000 MWe. Each of the eight units planned by Electronuclear will need approval by Congress, therefore a lot of careful groundwork with communities is being undertaken before any announcement.

Eletronuclear is looking at the Westinghouse AP1000 (which is reported to be favoured), the Areva-Mitsubishi Atmea-1 and Atomstroyexport's VVER-1000. However, funding is likely to be a problem.  In May 2012 the government said that construction of any new plants would not commence until after 2020. Rosatom has offered to consider a build-own-operate (BOO) project, as in Turkey.

Uranium resources & fuel cycle

Resulting from active exploration in 1970s and 1980s, Brazil has known resources of 278,000 tonnesd of uranium – 5% of world total. Three main deposits are: Pocos de Caldas (Minas Gerais state; mine closed in 1997); Lagoa Real or Caetité (Bahia state; operating since 1999); and Itataia, now called Santa Quitéria (Ceará state; phosphate as co-product; production start planned mid-2012).

Mining

Uranium has been mined since 1982, but the only operating mine is INB's Lagoa Real/Caetité mine, with 340 tU/yr capacity, (though 2010 production was down, to 148 tU, from 345 tU in 2009). INB intends to double production here to 680 tU/yrby 2015, and replace heap leaching with agitated leaching in the mill. It has known resources of 92,960 tU, but INB expects this to double on the basis of recent discoveries. 

In 2008, INB entered an arrangement with fertiliser producer Galvani to recover uranium from phosphate mined at Itataia/ Santa Quitéria3. The mine is expected to produce 970 tU/yr from 2015, and ramp up to 1270 tU per year in 2017 as by-product of phosphate. Reserves are 76,000 tU at 0.08% U, with 140,000 tU resources quoted elsewhere.

All mined uranium is used domestically, after conversion and most enrichment abroad.

Conversion

Apart from the navy’s small experimental plant at Aramar, all conversion is by Areva in France. INB plans a domestic facility.

Enrichment

Most enrichment is undertaken by Urenco in Europe or USA.

In the early 1980s, the Brazilian Navy started a nuclear propulsion program and undertook the development of centrifuge enrichment to 1989. A demonstration plant was built at the Aramar Experimental Center in Iperó (São Paulo state), which remains a naval facility to provide fuel enriched to less than 20% for the submarine program. Currently enrichment here is reported to be to 5% U-235.

Using the enrichment technology developed by the navy at Aramar, and with centrifuges built by the navy and leased to INB, an industrial enrichment plant at Resendee is intended to cater for much of the needs of the Angra reactors. Stage 1 – eventually to be four modules totalling 115,000 SWU/yr and costing US$ 170 million – was officially opened in 2006 by INB. Each module consists of four or five cascades of 5000-6000 SWU/yr. Operation of the Resende plant commenced in 20094 and it produced 730 kg of 4% enriched uranium in that year. In 2012 three cascades were operating and produced 2293 kg of 4% enriched uranium, meeting about 5% of the country’s needs. The full stage 1 plant was expected to produce 60% of the fuel needs for Angra 1&2 by 2012, the shortfall being attributed to difficulties in supply of equipment and funding. Eletronuclear has signed a BRL 660 million contract with INB for Angra 3 fuel. Stage 2 will take capacity to 200,000 SWU, possibly by 2018. The centrifuges are domestically-developed and similar to Urenco technology.

Fuel fabrication

INB's fuel fabrication plant designed by Siemens is also at Resende, with capacity of 160 tonnes per year pellet production and 280 t/yr fuel assembly production.

Radioactive waste management

The National Nuclear Energy Commission (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear, CNEN) is responsible for management and disposal of radioactive wastes. Legislation in 2001 provides for repository site selection, construction and operation for low- and intermediate-level wastes. A long-term solution for these is to be in place before Angra 3 is commissioned.

Used fuel is stored at Angra pending formulation of policy on reprocessing or direct disposal.

Regulation and safety

The main legislation is the National Policy on Nuclear Energy, 1962, which established state control over nuclear materials. The National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) was set up in 1956 and reported initially to the Presidential Secretary for Strategic Affairs but now comes under the Ministry of Science and Technology. In 1974, legislation was passed that establishes CNEN as the country's nuclear regulator. CNEN's Directorate of Radiation Protection and Safety (DRS) is responsible for licensing and supervision of all nuclear facilities.

In 1989, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis, IBAMA) was created to carry out environmental licensing of all facilities (including nuclear), but CNEN remains a co-authority on radiation aspects of nuclear licensing. IBAMA comes under the Ministry of the Environment.

The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, CNPq) was set up in 1951 as the National Research Council to develop nuclear technology in Brazil.

Research and development

CNEN's Directorate of Research and Development (DPD) is responsible for all fuel cycle, reactor technology, radioisotopes, and related R&D. Five nuclear research centres carry out various R&D work. At the Nuclear Energy Research Institute (Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas e Nucleares, IPEN), São Paulo, there are two research reactors (including a 5 MW pool type reactor) and a cyclotron, with radioisotope production.  

In May 2013 Argentina’s INVAP was awarded contracts to build the RA-10 research reactor in Argentina and the Brazil Multipurpose Reactor (RMB) there, with Australia’s OPAL reactor being the reference design for both. The two reactors will be used for the production of medical radioisotopes, as well as irradiation tests of advanced nuclear fuel and materials, and neutron beam research. Under a related contract signed in January 2012, Brazil's Intertechne is developing the conceptual and basic design of buildings, systems and infrastructure for the RMB. It will be built in the municipality of Iperó in São Paulo state and is due to start operating in 2018. The research reactor project is part of the growing bilateral cooperation in nuclear energy between Argentina and Brazil. 

At CTMSP (Centro Tecnológico da Marinha em São Paulo) – the Navy's Aramar Technology Center at São Paulo – a prototype reactor for naval propulsion is being developed, but at one stage it was reported that this program was being redirected into possible applications for small power plants in the northeast of the country. By 2005 the navy and NUCLEP were reported to have manufactured a reactor pressure vessel for the submarine reactor prototype. However, the navy proposal in 2009 was that an 11 MW prototype reactor should be constructed by 2014 and operated for about eight years, with a view to a full-sized (70 MW) version using low-enriched uranium being in a submarine to be launched in 2021. In 2012 the government set up Blue Amazon Defence Technologies to develop nuclear submarines, with reactor prototype PWR using low-enriched uranium fuel (<20%) to be ready by 2016 and the first submarine commissioned in 2025. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) would apply safeguards to the prototype. However, safeguards for nuclear powered vessels outside of the five NPT nuclear weapons states are unprecedented.

Brazil has been involved in the Generation IV International Forum, and in the IAEA INPRO (International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles) program, both developing new-generation reactor designs and systems. CNEN is also involved with Westinghouse in developing the IRIS modular reactor.

Non proliferation

Brazil is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since 1998 as a non-nuclear-weapon state (it signed in 1995), but has been a party to the Tlatelolco Treaty since 1967f. Its reservations on the NPT were that it did not exempt peaceful nuclear explosions for civil engineering, and it was weak on global disarmament. Nevertheless it had a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1968 (INFCIRC 110 & 147).

While the Tlatelolco Treaty did not include Argentina, the relationship in that direction was always rivalry rather than any arms race. With the advent of civilian government in 1985 Brazil and Argentina signed a Joint Declaration on Nuclear Policy to address “the growing difficulties arising in the international supply of nuclear equipment and materials.” In the course of pursuing independence in its nuclear fuel cycle through the 1970s and 80s Brazil had firmly denied aspirations for nuclear weapons. Nevertheless the USA was active in attempting to counter the country’s agreement with West Germany because it included the possibility of supplying enrichment technology.

Following a new constitution in 1988, the country again renounced development of nuclear weaponsg and, in 1991, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) was set up. This led to the 1991 Quadripartite Agreement (INFCIRC 435) among Brazil, Argentina, ABACC and the IAEA which entered force in 1994 with full-scope safeguards under IAEA auspices including naval facilities.

In 1996, Brazil became a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Brazil has not accepted the Additional Protocol in relation to its safeguards agreements with the IAEA on the principled basis that the international system promotes non-proliferation rather than the more fundamental question of nuclear disarmament, and practically because its application to the submarine program is unclear and because it could cut across ABACC (Argentina also has not signed the Additional Protocol).

In 2010 Brazil, with Turkey, signed an agreement with Iran – the Teheran Declaration – to swap its 20% enriched uranium for foreign fuel for the Teheran research reactor, alleviating concerns about Iran’s intentions in enriching uranium to that level. This was not acted upon, but led to later agreements with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1).


Further Information

Notes

a. Eletrobrás (Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A.) was set up in 1962 as a holding company controlled by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The federal government currently holds a 54% shareholding in the company. The Eletrobrás System companies are responsible for over 39,400 MWe of the installed capacity in the country, which represents 38% of the total Brazilian capacity. It holds 50% of the shares in Itaipu Binational, which runs the 14 GWe Itaipu hydroelectric dam. Eletrobrás is also the owner of Eletronuclear (Eletrobrás Termonuclear), the Brazilian nuclear utility. [Back]

b. In 1969, Siemens and AEG merged their nuclear activities, forming Kraftwerk Union (KWU). In 1977 AEG sold all its shares in KWU to Siemens. In 1987, Siemens-KWU was integrated into Siemens' Power Generation Group and, in 2001, Siemens merged its nuclear activities with Framatome to form Framatome ANP, which was later rebranded as Areva NP. In 2009, Siemens announced its intention to sell its 34% interest in the joint venture to Areva. [Back]

c. When Eletronuclear was formed (from Nuclen and Furnas), Siemens sold its 25% stake in Nuclen to Eletrobrás. [Back]

d. Reasonably Assured Resources plus Inferred Resources, to US$ 130/kg. [Back]

e. The enrichment plant is part of the Resende Nuclear Fuel Factory (Fábrica de Combustível Nuclear, FCN) or INB Resende. [Back]

f. The 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco, was signed by all Latin American countries other than Argentina and Cuba in 1967. The Treaty came into force in April 1969. [Back]

g. In the 1970s, Brazil's military government pursued a covert nuclear weapons program. This program was ended by the civilian government, which came to power in 1985 under President José Sarney. [Back]

References

1. High hopes in Brazil, World Nuclear News (16 September 2008); Brazil: Four more nuclear plants by 2030?, World Nuclear News (11 June 2009) [Back]

3. Galvani to work on Brazil's largest uranium reserve, World Nuclear News (24 June 2008) [Back]

4. Brazil signs conversion contract with Areva, World Nuclear News (3 February 2010) [Back]

General sources

Country Nuclear Power Profiles: Brazil, International Atomic Energy Agency
Datafile: Brazil, Nuclear Engineering International, August 1998
Togzhan Kassenova, Brazil’s Nuclear Kaleidoscope – An Evolving Identity, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2014)