Brazil follows Iran's nuclear path, but without the fuss
By Peter Muello
Associated Press Writer
04/20/06 RESENDE, Brazil (AP)
- As Iran faces international
pressure over developing the raw material for nuclear weapons,
Brazil is quietly preparing to open its own uranium-enrichment
center, capable of producing exactly the same fuel.
Brazil - like Iran - has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty, and Brazil's constitution bans the military use of
Also like Iran, Brazil has cloaked key aspects of its nuclear
technology in secrecy while insisting the program is for
peaceful purposes, claims nuclear weapons experts have debunked.
While Brazil is more cooperative than Iran on international
inspections, some worry its new enrichment capability - which
eventually will create more fuel than is needed for its two
nuclear plants - suggests that South America's biggest nation
may be rethinking its commitment to nonproliferation.
''Brazil is following a path very similar to Iran, but Iran is
getting all the attention,'' said Marshall Eakin, a Brazil
expert at Vanderbilt University. ''In effect, Brazil is
benefiting from Iran's problems.''
While Iran leads a war of words against nuclear-armed Israel and
has defied a U.N. Security Council request to stop all uranium
enrichment, Brazil is peaceful and democratic. It doesn't have
border disputes, is not in an arms race, and strives for good
relations with all nations. Its last war ended in 1870.
''Brazil doesn't cheat on the Nonproliferation Treaty and it
does not exist in an area of high tension,'' said David
Albright, a former U.N. inspector who runs the Washington-based
Institute for Science and International Security.
The U.S. Embassy in the capital, Brasilia, referred all
questions to the State Department in Washington, where spokesman
Sean McCormack dismissed any parallel between Brazil's nuclear
program and Iran's.
''My understanding is they have a peaceful nuclear program,'' he
Still, Brazil's enrichment program - and its reluctance to allow
unlimited inspections - has raised suspicions abroad.
''Brazil is beginning to be perceived as a country apparently
wanting to reevaluate its commitment to nonproliferation, and
this is a big part of the problem,'' said Jon Wolfsthal, deputy
director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace in Washington.
The government-run Industrias Nucleares do Brasil S.A. has been
conducting final tests at the enrichment plant, built on a
former coffee plantation in Resende, 90 miles west of Rio de
Janeiro. When it opens this year, Brazil will join the world's
Brazil has the world's sixth-largest uranium reserves, but until
the plant becomes operational, it can't use the fuel for energy
without shipping it to and from URENCO, the European enrichment
Brazil says its plant will be capable of enriching natural
uranium to less than 5 percent uranium-235, an isotope needed to
fuel its two reactors. Warheads need ore that has been enriched
to 95 percent uranium-235, a material Brazil says it can't and
''If you can enrich to 5 percent, you're decades away from
enriching to 90 percent,'' Odair Dias Goncalves, president of
the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission, told The Associated
Press. ''You need a whole new technology that we don't have.''
But former U.N. inspector Albright said he worked with Goncalves
at the Brazilian Physics Society on a project to show that the
Brazilian centrifuges could be used to produce highly enriched
uranium, even if that wasn't their intended use.
''Centrifuges are very flexible,'' he said. ''Reconfiguring the
cascades or recycling the enriched uranium multiple times can
allow for the production of weapons-grade uranium.''
Brazilian leaders insist the fuel will be used for the nation's
$1 billion nuclear energy industry. Already Latin America's
biggest nuclear power provider, Brazil plans up to seven new
atomic plants to reduce its dependence on oil and hydroelectric
power and plans to export enriched uranium to provide energy for
Brazil initially refused inspections by the International Atomic
Energy Association, arguing that providing full access to its
state-of-the-art, Brazilian-designed centrifuges would put it at
risk of industrial espionage. Since then, IAEA inspectors have
visited the plant many times, monitoring the uranium that comes
in and out, but they're still prevented from seeing the actual
centrifuges, which are covered with opaque screens.
The IAEA inspectors have said they're satisfied no material is
being diverted. Brazilian physicist Jose Goldemberg said Brazil
won't be able to produce enriched uranium for export until 2014.
Brazil had great nuclear ambitions during a 1964-85 military
dictatorship, when it built the two nuclear energy plants,
worked to develop a nuclear submarine and had secret plans to
test an atomic bomb in a 1,000-foot-deep, concrete-and
steel-lined hole in the Amazon jungle. That idea was formally
scrapped in 1990, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell
declared in 2004 that ''we know for sure that Brazil is not
thinking about nuclear weapons in any sense.''
But Brazil's nuclear ambitions have been rekindled under leftist
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in part, analysts say,
because joining the nuclear club would boost Brazil's status
internationally and possibly earn it a permanent seat on the
What is really at stake in both Brazil and Iran is self-image,
Goldemberg said. ''It's nationalism, pride. That's the real
reason,'' he said.
Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna and Barry Schweid
in Washington contributed to this report.
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