Nuclear Power in Brazil
(Updated May 2013)
- 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 2007, gross production was 445 billion kWh, with net imports of 39 billion kWh being required. Of the total generated in the country, 84% of power was from hydro, 3.5% from gas, 4% from biomass, just over 5% from coal and oil, and 3% (12.4 million kWh) from nuclear. In 2009, nuclear power generated 13 billion kWh of electricity. Per capita electricity consumption in Brazil has grown strongly since 1990 – from under 1500 kWh/yr in 1990 to nearly 2200 kWh/yr in 2007.
The high dependence on hydro gives rise to some climatic vulnerability which is driving policy to diminish dependence on it. 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
In 1970, the Brazilian 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 is 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.
Current status of Brazil's nuclear power industry
Operating Brazilian power reactors
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.
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. 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 due in 2009. A construction licence was granted by the National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) at the end of May 2010, and construction resumed two days later, in June. The plant is expected in operation at the end of 2015 after 66 months. 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 BRL 9.9 billion estimated cost. 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. Start-up is expected in 2015.
Brazilian power reactors under construction and proposed
||1405 MWe (1270 MWe net)
|Southeast, Minas Gerais
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.
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.
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).
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 2014-15, 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 enrichment abroad.
In the early 1980s, the Brazilian Navy started a nuclear propulsion program and undertook the development of centrifuge enrichment to 1989, evidently also with weapons in mind. A demonstration plant was built at the Aramar Experimental Center in in Iperó (São Paulo state), which remains a naval facility to provide fuel enriched to something like 10% for the submarine program.
Using the enrichment technology developed at Aramar, an industrial enrichment plant was then planned at Resendee 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. The full stage 1 plant is expected to produce 60% of the fuel needs for Angra 1&2 by 2012, and Eletronuclear has signed a BRL 660 million contract with INB for Angra 3 fuel. Stage 2 will take capacity to 200,000 SWU. The centrifuges are domestically-developed and very similar to Urenco technology.
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.
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 was 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. 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. 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. Arrangements for this, and the design of the prototype, are expected to be finalised in 2011.
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.
Brazil is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since 1998 as a non-nuclear weapons state (it signed in 1995), but has been a party to the Tlatelolco Treaty since 1967f. Following a new constitution in 1988, the country renounced development of nuclear weaponsg and, in 1991, a Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) was set up with full-scope safeguards under IAEA auspices applying since 1994. 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 due to its naval nuclear fuel program, where uranium enriched beyond power reactor levels may remain outside safeguards while it is being used in a vessel at sea by the navy.
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]
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]
Country Nuclear Power Profiles: Brazil, International Atomic Energy Agency
Datafile: Brazil, Nuclear Engineering International, August 1998