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Brazil’s Angra 3 nuclear reactor: a political undertaking, not a common good via the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

By Carolina Basso

In 2019 the Brazilian government decided to resume work at Angra 3, a nuclear reactor where construction has been essentially dormant for more than three decades. The work was supposed to restart last year, with the reactor entering commercial service by late 2026, but COVID-19 and the quest for private partners to invest in the project have pushed back the schedule.

Brazil currently has two operating nuclear power plants, Angra 1 and 2, that have generated less than three percent of the country’s electricity since their commercial launch. So why does Brazil want to resume construction of a third nuclear reactor?

Angra 3 is questionable in economic and energy-related terms. Studies have shown that the country can generate electricity much more cheaply by integrating wind power with Brazil’s considerable hydropower resources. Analysts suggest that this combined system could supply all the electricity the population demands, making any expansion of the nuclear industry sector unnecessary and costly.

The decision to resume construction of the third Brazilian reactor was made by President Jair Bolsonaro, who is committed to expanding the nuclear industry. Bolsonaro’s commitment results in part from his close ties to Brazil’s Navy, which has historically shaped the nuclear sector and currently dominates the country’s uranium enrichment and fuel cycle technology. But this factor alone cannot explain the decision.

[…]

A burden on consumers. It is in light of this enduring corruption in Brazil that readers should consider the decision to resume construction of Angra 3. The combination of high costs, doubtful political intentions, and better energy options make it unreasonable to expand nuclear capabilities in Brazil. If decision-makers were truly concerned about the energy demands of the people, they would have invested in alternative systems that are more economical and sustainable. That they have not done so very likely has something to do with opposition from the lobbies of competing energy industries and the interests of political elites who hope to financially benefit from expensive projects like Angra 3.

Corruption in the nuclear industry is a known international phenomenon. The recent scandal in Ohio illustrates how the push for subsidies to nuclear plants is not the result of a real commitment to citizens’ energy needs or climate concerns, but a way for energy corporations to maintain overpayments and assure political gains to certain parties. Brazil offers a different model, one that has used new nuclear facilities to generate kickbacks to powerful political and business interests.

Because of this favoring of influence over qualification and fair budgeting, the burden on consumers will continue to grow. Around the world, reactor costs in the nuclear industry tend to be much higher than initially estimated. Angra 3’s estimated price has risen more than $2.7 billion from 2008 to 2018. The expensive investment has resulted in the tariff from the plant doubling from roughly $45 to $90 per megawatt hour. It is past time politicians refrain from overcharging the Brazilian population for their own advantage.

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