Nuclear power accounts for a miniscule share (about 2%) of the electrical energy generated in Latin America, but two of the largest economies in the region, Brazil and Argentina, see it as a viable source to meet their electricity needs.
Brazil has been especially aggressive in promoting nuclear-power projects over during the past decade. At present the country relies on nuclear power for 3% of its energy needs, which is obtained from the Angra dos Reis and Angra II reactors in Rio de Janeiro state. A third reactor, which is under construction at the Angra plant, is expected to start commercial production at the end of 2014.
Even though Brazil sees nuclear power as a cornerstone of its future development, environmental groups and other local groups have formed coalitions to oppose constructing two additional nuclear-power plants the Brazilian government plans to build in the northeast. Social and environmental organizations believe that the region, which has the greatest inequality in the country, cannot afford this project.
Various news sources say Argentina is also moving aggressively to expand its nuclear capacity. The country has three plants and is considering a fourth with the help of China. The South American country currently obtains 6% of its electricity from nuclear power and is pushing to increase the share to more than 20% by 2025.
Mexico has a single plant, Laguna Verde in Veracruz, which produces about 4.5% of the country's total energy needs. The plant has also been the subject of controversy because of safety concerns.
If global climate change has a major impact on energy sources like hydroelectric power, countries in the region might turn increasingly to nuclear power and other sources of energy like geothermal power. Venezuela, for example, has already begun to explore the possibility of constructing a nuclear power plant with Russian assistance.
The dilemma of how to dispose of nuclear waste and the danger to nearby communities in the event of an accident could also act as deterrents.
There are also environmental problems with geothermal-power projects that have been launched in Chile and Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, environmental advocates and federal legislators have condemned a proposed geothermal project because of potential damage to the local ecosystem. The problem was illustrated more clearly in Chile, where a mishap at an experimental geothermal electric project in 2009 released boiling steam, water, and subterranean gasses into the environment, raising concern about damage to nearby ecosystems.
Even though nuclear and geothermal power account for a very small percentage of electricity sources in Latin America, these two forms of energy are expected to remain part of the conversation as governments continue to push for economic development.