Skip to content

Brazil Ready to Start Uranium Enrichment

The Mercury News reports a Knight Ridder story that Brazil is about to start up its own uranium enrichment plant, probably putting it ahead of Iran in this technology. Having spent two years, twenty years ago, trying to discourage Brazil from doing this, I am somewhat disappointed. The good news is that Brazil, unlike Iran, is cooperating closely with the IAEA. Then, there are the lessons we could learn from Brazil’s nuclear program.

For me, it’s that you have to be a reliable supplier and work closely with countries that have nuclear reactors. I’ve described it earlier, but Brazil had no intention of developing the full nuclear fuel cycle when it purchased its first nuclear reactor from Westinghouse in the US in the 1970s, mainly as a hedge against the oil shortages gripping the world then. Just as the reactor was about to go on line, the US refused to sell fuel for it, as the Arabs were refusing to sell oil then. Senator John Glenn passed a law requiring “full scope safeguards” (equivalent to NPT membership) on all nuclear activities in a country before the US could sell nuclear fuel to it. Brazil said this was changing the terms of the agreement after the agreement had already been concluded and after Brazil had spent about a billion dollars on its reactor. Brazil got so mad that it has spent the last 30 years developing a fuel cycle, so that its nuclear reactor supplied power will not be subject to the whims of the US and its allies.

Beating people (like Iran and North Korea) about the head and shoulders is likely to be counterproductive, as it was in Brazil, unless we are willing to back up our demands with military force, as we did in Iraq. The poor planning and execution in Iraq, however, may have taught protential proliferators a lesson that to counter US pressure you need to develop a bomb. This may be the lesson of Bush’s current trip to India, which seems to have gotten a “get out of jail free” card from Bush after developing nuclear weapons. See this briefing on how Clinton viewed the Glenn amendment for his trip to India.

Another project that Brazil started during the 1970s oil crisis, developing ethanol automobile fuel from sugar cane, has also been successful, putting Brazil far ahead of the US in this technology, which Bush just recently indentified as important (30 years after Brazil).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *