NotiEn - A Newsletter on Energy Policy Issues in Latin America
May 26th, 2011Vol 2, Issue 8

Economic Powers in Latin America Continue to Support Nuclear Power Despite Accident in Japan


For many supporters in Latin America, nuclear power remains a viable and clean alternative to other types of energy despite the concerns created by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in March of this year.  Solar and wind power are still too expensive to develop on a large scale, hydroelectric power is reaching the limit of its capabilities, and changes in the global climate have increased pressure to phase out highly polluting fossil fuels. 


Not surprisingly, the strongest supporters of nuclear power in Latin America are the countries that already have nuclear capabilities: Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.  Officials from the three countries recently said the accident in Japan would not derail plans in the medium and long term to expand their nuclear capabilities.  They promised, however, to conduct a thorough review of existing facilities and ensure that strict safety measures were in place for any new reactors.


But the strong support by the governments for nuclear power does not necessarily translate into support by civil society for this energy option.  In the wake of the accident, demonstrations against nuclear power erupted in Mexico and Brazil, with detractors warning that a nuclear accident would cause irreparable harm. Greenpeace Mexico unfurled a big banner at Mexico's Senate building to demand that the Laguna Verde plant be shut down and that nuclear power be taken out of the strategic energy plan for 2011-2025.  Greenpeace Brasil also protested the government's plans to expand the Angra complex.


Reactions in other countries that have recently considered nuclear power as an option were mixed.  The Fukushima accident prompted the governments of Venezuela, Uruguay, and Peru to immediately scrap any plans to develop nuclear energy.


Ironically, Chile--the one country that recently experienced an earthquake and tsunami similar to the one that occurred in Japan-continues to view nuclear power as a viable option.  Chile does not currently have nuclear power plants but is in dire need of finding alternatives for fossil fuels and hydroelectricity to boost its energy capabilities.  The Chilean government is moving forward with an agreement with France to explore building a plant in Chile.


So nuclear power, which remains a mere 2% of the energy matrix in the region, compared with 16% globally, remains a viable option in the region.  "There's still a future of nuclear energy everywhere in the world, especially in Latin America.  What Fukushima has done is probably change the agenda for the near future, but it's not going to change the agenda very much in the long term," a Chilean scientist told NotiEn.


Carlos Navarro - Editor   

In This Issue...
A Note From the Editor
Mexican Government, Congress Support Nuclear Power to Varying Degrees; Detractors Want Laguna Verde Power Plant Closed
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Proceeding with Nuclear Power Despite Fukushima Accident
After Fukushima, South America Reassesses Nuclear-Power Push
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Mexican Government, Congress Support Nuclear Power to Varying Degrees; Detractors Want Laguna Verde Power Plant Closed - By Carlos Navarro  
Greenpeace Mexico

Photo: Courtesy of Greenpeace / Gustavo Graf.

The threat of a nuclear mishap in Mexico, similar to the disaster that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in March, has ignited a debate on whether the Mexican government should proceed with plans to expand the capacity of the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant in Veracruz state.  The plant, property of the state-run electric utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), operates two boiling-water reactors fueled with enriched uranium and provides 3% to 4% of Mexico's total electricity needs. The plant has an installed capacity of nearly 1,400 megawatts.  


The Japan disaster has prompted a group of environmental organizations, led by Greenpeace México, to demand that the government abandon nuclear power altogether.  Opinions in the Mexican Congress are mixed, with the chair of the Senate energy committee reiterating that nuclear power is safe and a senator for the governing party calling for constructing more nuclear power plants.  Other legislators are asking for further studies on the safety of nuclear power and a moratorium on expanding the country's nuclear power program, but they stopped short of calling for an end to the use of nuclear power.  Read more... 


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Proceeding with Nuclear Power Despite Fukushima Accident
Graziela Aronovich, Special to NotiEn  

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan has increased pressure on the Brazilian government to justify the use of nuclear power, but there is little evidence that President Dilma Rousseff's administration plans to make any major changes to Brazil's nuclear-power program (Programa Nuclear Brasileiro, PNB).  Rousseff has made no direct public comments about the PNB since the accident in Japan, but Secretary of Science and Technology Aloizio Mercadante reiterated the government's intention to continue the program, launched in 1985 with the inauguration of the Angra 1 power station during the administration of then President José Sarney (1985-1990).


"Nuclear energy is safe and clean, and Brazil will continue investing in this type of energy," said Mercadente, who reiterated that nuclear power plants are an integral element of the Plano Nacional de Energia (PNE 2030).

Rousseff's position on nuclear energy is similar to that of her predecessor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Sliva (2003-2011).  Rousseff, like Lula, views access to inexpensive energy as essential for modernization, and nuclear power is an important part of the mix.   Read more... 

After Fukushima, South America Reassesses Nuclear-Power Push - By Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   

The recent nuclear disaster in Japan's tsunami-damaged Fukushima reactor has shaken--but not buried--plans for an atomic energy surge in South America, which right now has just four of the world's 442 nuclear power plants.


Prior to the accident, analysts had anticipated something of a nuclear renaissance in South America.  Non-nuclear countries like Chile, Venezuela, and Uruguay were seriously flirting with the atomic-energy option, investing public funds in exploratory studies and/or signing nuclear-technology accords with countries like Russia and France.  At the same time, Brazil and Argentina--the two South American countries with atomic power facilities already in place--had begun expanding their respective nuclear industries.

The regional power push was part of a global resurgence for nuclear energy.  Vilified after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, atomic energy had been very much on the comeback trail worldwide in recent years, aided in large party by a shift of global environmental priorities.  As the world's leading scientific and environmental voices began to sound the alarm about climate change, nuclear power--once an ecological no-no--has gradually been recast as a clean alternative to CO2-belching coal-fired or oil- and gas-burning thermoelectric plants.  Read more...


Energy Policy, Regulation and Dialogue in Latin America


NotiEn is an original newsletter with breaking news that analyzes and digests relevant and contemporary information in energy, alternative energy and energy policies in Latin America. A complimentary service provided by the University of New Mexico as part of LA-ENERGAIA Project funded by the US TICFIA Program