Outlook of Brazil’s nuclear energy industry

Following the global trend, Brazilians are consuming more electricity. Per capita electricity consumption in Brazil has grown strongly from under 1500 kWh/yr in 1990 to nearly 2700 kWh/yr in 2011.

The South American country is largely dependent on hydropower. In February  2010 the government approved $9.3 billion investment in the new 11.2 GWe Belo Monte hydro scheme, which aims to supply about 11% of the country’s electricity.

However, such dependence on hydro makes Brazil vulnerable to climatic conditions. A major drought in 2001 led to acute shortage of power, and even more recently in the history of the country,  the 2014/2015 drought led to attempts to diminish this vulnerability.

Nuclear industry development in Brazil

According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear energy provides about 3% of Brazil’s electricity.

About 40% of Brazil’s electricity is produced by the national Eletrobrás Systema. About 20% of electricity is from state-owned utilities, and the rest is from privately-owned companies. No private investment in nuclear power is allowed, though this is under review.

Brazil began developing nuclear technology in 1951 under the newly-established National Research Council, but accelerated this under a military regime from 1964 to 1985. In 1970, the government decided to seek bids for an initial nuclear plant. The turnkey contract for Angra 1 was awarded to Westinghouse, and construction of the Central Nuclear Almirante Álvaro Alberto (CNAAA) power plant complex started in 1971 at a coastal site between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.


General view of the Angra 1 (R) and Angra 2 nuclear power plants in Angra dos Reis, 250 km south of Rio de Janeiro. Photo: VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1975, the government adopted a policy to become fully self-sufficient in nuclear technology and signed an agreement with West Germany for the supply of eight 1300 MWe nuclear units over 15 years. The first two (Angra 2 and 3) were to be built immediately, with equipment from Kraftwerk Union (KWU)b. The rest were to have 90% Brazilian content under the technology transfer agreement. To effect this, a state-owned company Empresas Nucleares Brasileiras S.A. (Nuclebrás) was set up with a number of subsidiaries focused on particular aspects of engineering and the nuclear fuel cycle.

However, Brazil’s economic problems meant that construction of the first two Brazilian-German reactors was interrupted, and the whole program was reorganised at the end of the 1980s. In 1988, a new company, Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil S.A. (INB) took over the front end fuel cycle subsidiaries of Nuclebrás. Responsibility for construction of Angra 2 & 3 was transferred to the utility Furnas Centrais Elétricas S.A. (Furnas), a subsidiary of Eletrobrás. However, Nuclen, a former Nuclebrás subsidiary that also had KWU participation, remained as the nuclear plant architect and engineering company.

Construction of Angra 2 resumed in 1995, with US$ 1.3 billion of new investment provided by German banks, Furnas and Eletrobrás. Then in 1997, the nuclear operations of Furnas merged with Nuclen to form Eletrobrás Termonuclear S.A. (Eletronuclear), a new subsidiary of Eletrobrásc and responsible for all construction and operation of nuclear power plants. After review of the policy from 2013, in May 2015 the government said that Angra 3 would be the last nuclear power plant built as a public works project, opening the way for private equity in the next four units.

Heavy equipment manufacturing remains the responsibility of former Nuclebrás subsidiary Nuclebrás Equipamentos Pesados S.A. (Nuclear Heavy Equipment, NUCLEP). Both NUCLEP and INB are subsidiaries of – but administratively independent of – the National Nuclear Energy Commission (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear, CNEN), and report directly to the Ministry of Science and Technology (Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia). Eletrobrás, which owns Eletronuclear, comes under the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

There is a continuing military influence on Brazil’s nuclear program. Brazil is the only non-nuclear-weapon state in which the military leases uranium enrichment technology to the civilian nuclear program, and the navy drives technological advances in the nuclear field. Also Brazil is the only non-nuclear-weapon state developing a nuclear-powered submarine.

The first out of four diesel-electric submarines (SSK) to be built by Brazil under construction at the shipyard in Itaguai on May 22, 2014 (Copyright: AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

The first out of four diesel-electric submarines (SSK) to be built by Brazil under construction at the shipyard in Itaguai on May 22, 2014 (Copyright: AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Read more about the contruction of the nuclear submarine and military investments in Brazil.

Investment in new nuclear plants

Eletronuclear has proposed building two new nuclear plants in the northeast and two more near Angra in the southeast.1 At the end of 2009, it commenced initial siting studies. Early in 2013 two sites were under final appraisal: one in the northeast on a large dam on the Sao Francisco River between Pernambuco and Bahia states for up to 6600 MWe, and one in the north of Minas Gerais state  in the southeast of the country, inland from Angra, for 4000-6000 MWe.

Recently, Electronuclear said it is evaluating potential sites for a new nuclear plant, adding that company representatives were visiting the northeast Sergipe state this week. The company told Kallanish Energy a technical team from China’s state-controlled Chinese National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) are accompanying Eletronuclear’s executives on the site visits and meetings with the state government.

Similar visits have been made to the northeast states of Pernambuco and Alagoas, as well as in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. The Brazilian government has identified 21 locations for the installation of four new nuclear power plants by 2030, at a combined cost of USD 20 billion.

Eletronuclear’s spokesman Marcelo Gomes explained the company “has invited potential suppliers for these recognition visits of candidate areas, allowing a deeper technical evaluation of potential sites under [ongoing] consideration. Westinghouse and ATMEA accompanied us in Minas Gerais and Pernambuco, and we’ll have other companies in upcoming visits,” he added.

A third unit, Angra 3, was under construction last year, until a corruption probe halted building. The project is scheduled to come online in December 2018, featuring 1,405 MW of installed capacity.

The country has plans to build another eight plants between 2030 and 2050, Kallanish Energy notes.

Innovation Norway is responsible for promoting the Norwegian industry abroad. Our office in Rio de Janeiro manages Innovation House Rio, our business incubator office, and helps Norwegian companies in their efforts towards the Brazilian market.

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