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Last Updated: 05/05/2004Nuclear Impasse in Brazil
This issue's editorial is provided by Animesh Roul who asks could Brazil and with it Argentina go nuclear? The author thinks it is possible if the military in Brazil so decided.
Consider this: Brazil is going to be one nuclear weapon states (NWS) 2010 . The fear of Theodore Taylor, an American physicist and expert on nuclear weapons during the 1970s would be true, if Brazil produce the bomb. Taylor had observed immediately after Brazil entered into an agreement with West Germany, that Brazil will soon be able to produce enough plutonium for the country to reconstruct every two weeks a bomb. It may sound out of the world but the issue has been hunting the international community since October 2003 when a senior Brazilian official reportedly indicated of a plan to begin Uranium enrichment by 2004 and a possible export of the product within a decade or so.
The fact that such a move would technically bestow Brazil the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been on its toes since then to restrain Brazil on its renewed, yet elusive ambition. While the outgoing Science and Technology Minister Roberto Amaral had pointed out before his resignation, that the proposed uranium enrichment program was aimed at guaranteeing the country's energy supply, which is heavily dependent on hydro-electric power, the obvious doubts over the intention loomed large, when he himself hugged the limelight by arguing that Brazil should not rule out acquiring the ability to produce an atomic bomb.
Brazil has two nuclear plants: Angra-I and II, located on the coast south of Rio de Janerio. Another plant, Angra III which has been on the pipeline and considered as mothballed project is sitting idle for the last one a half decades. Under the renewed programme, Brazil plans to invest 87 million USD to produce 60 percent of all the uranium used at the two plants. The enrichment technology is, however, not new to Brazil. It had developed its own ability by working with West Germany under an agreement signed in June 1975 as part of an ambitious strategy to supplement its energy requirements.
A signatory of the Non proliferation Treaty (NPT), Brazil had ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1998. Its nuclear program has been in compliance with safeguards established by the Brazil-Argentine Accounting and Control Agency (ABACC) and the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA since 1994 and moreover, it s for peaceful purposes. The two neighboring, nuclear weapon capable states had signed ABACC way back in 1991 to verify the peaceful nature of both states' nuclear activities by mutual inspections. Even, both Brazil and Argentina are states-parties of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the nuclear-weapons-free zone treaty for Latin America.
The diplomatic stand-off reportedly came when U.N. nuclear inspectors were being blocked from examining the uranium enrichment facility, Resende, near Rio de Janeiro in February and March this year on the pretext of protecting its indigenous technology. The IAEA has to visit Brazil s nuclear facilities to make sure that the country is not producing weapons grade material and probably to continue its investigation on the Khangate and the global nuclear black market. Its current Science and Technology Minister Eduardo Campos has later clarified that the inspectors had access to the uranium that would be sent to Canada for enrichment, but Brazil is not obliged to show the technology that took them years to develop . According to him, the Brazilian centrifuges are 30 percent more efficient than those found in other countries.
Even though, the current nuclear projects which are legal as long as used for peaceful purposes, the Brazilian government took a serious note of the recent U.S. President George W. Bush s February 11 announcement which concludes that countries not already producing uranium should not be allowed to begin production and they could still receive nuclear fuel at a reasonable cost if they submit to rigorous IAEA inspections . Declaring it unacceptable, the proposal caused resentment within the Brazilian nuclear establishment.
What would be the possible future implications? Conventional wisdom suggests that any Brazilian efforts towards building a nuclear weapon or for that matter weapons grade material for the so -called credible deterrent could provoke neighboring Argentina to pursue its shelved nuclear weapon Programme which could very well trigger a nuclear arms race in the Latin America. We have been through this experience already in South Asia. If allowed to go ahead, it will weaken efforts to make common standards to curb future proliferations.
It is still a possibility that Brazil could bargain, not less than a place in the Security Council along with its allies South Africa and India (IBSA) to counter unilateral tendencies in world politics , as said by its President Lula de Silva in January 2004 while visiting India. Looking at the current nuclear impasse, Brazil s self confidence could be gauged by Lula s another statement when he reiterated that dependency and submissiveness , have to put in a backseat to get noticed and command respect in world politics.
With the nuclear impasse intact, US technicians of the Brazil-United States Permanent Committee on Nuclear Energy Cooperation have visited to the nuclear installations in Rio de Janeiro while US Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf and Directors of Brazil's National Nuclear Energy Commission met to discuss issues related to the nuclear sector. e.g., security, technology and safeguards on April 15. A day before, even the experts of the IAEA and the Argentine-Brazilian Nuclear Material Control Agency had a routine inspection of the nuclear installations.
Apprehension apart, an IAEA report on Brazil is expected in June 2004. At the same time, the United States carrot and stick tactics are on to refrain Brazil from enriching uranium and subsequent bomb. It would be worthwhile to watch whether Brazil is really interested to join the elite Nuclear Club or not.
This article was first published by http://www.brazzil.com/ on 20 April. The author is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management : 11, Talkatora Road, New Delhi-110001