19 May 2007 - 09:25
  • News Code: 104927

Analysts say the project does not solve Brazil"s problem of energy shortages by 2010.

The Brazilian government looks ready to approve the completion of a stalled third nuclear power plant, ushering in a wider atomic energy drive that could provoke public opposition.

The push comes as atomic energy is regaining favor in other countries on concerns that emissions from thermoelectric plants are stoking global warming, and at a time of high oil and natural gas prices.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and other ministers have spoken in favor of nuclear energy this month, indicating the controversial $3.5 billion project near the coastal resort of Angra could be approved at next month’s National Energy Policy Council meeting.

They justified the possible nuclear expansion because of delays in approval from environmental monitors on planned hydroelectric projects and the risk of power shortages.

Analysts say the project does not solve Brazil’s immediate problem of possible energy shortages around 2010. If approved now, the plant will be ready only in 2013. It also may run into public opposition over environmental and cost concerns.

“The government is taking advantage of current energy supply concerns to push forward Angra 3 even though the plant won’t help,“ said Roberto Schaeffer, who leads the Energy Planning Program at Rio de Janeiro Federal University.

Latin America’s largest economy relies on hydroelectric plants for 85 percent of its energy, which means droughts can cause power shortages. It was crippled by rationing in 2001.

Lula, who would have to approve the Angra 3 plan after the council, has also ordered the splitting up of the official environmental agency, Ibama, to speed up approval of energy projects. The move weakened Environment Minister Marina Silva, a staunch opponent of the nuclear option.

Lula’s powerful cabinet chief, Dilma Rousseff, said this week she saw few alternatives to nuclear energy as an addition to other sources if Brazil wants to grow at 5 percent annually.

Two reactors already working in Angra generate around 2,000 megawatts, or less than 3 percent of Brazil’s total capacity. The new reactor would add 1,350 MW, which pales in comparison to two hydroelectric projects on the Madeira river, now on hold awaiting Ibama approval, with a total 6,400 MW capacity.

“Apparently they are going to approve Angra 3, but the reactor is rather small and costs are excessive. It would make much more sense to debate whether Brazil should start a wider program for new reactors,“ Schaeffer said.

French state-controlled nuclear group Areva, the world’s leading maker of atomic reactors, has said it is optimistic about a restart of work on Angra 3 this year.

The main pro-nuclear arguments in the government are that the projected price of Angra 3 energy, of 138 reais ($69) per MW/h, is comparable to prices for electricity from gas-fired plants and that Brazil has its own nuclear fuel production after launching a uranium enrichment facility a year ago.

By 2010, the enrichment plant is expected to produce 60 percent of the fuel needs of Angra’s two existing reactors.

They also point to a “nuclear renaissance“ in the world since reactors do not emit greenhouse gases. A U.N. report on climate change this month stressed the use of nuclear, solar and wind power as means to keep global warming in check.

Four reactors are being built in Europe, and the US authorities are expected to reopen an Alabama nuclear reactor that has been shut for 22 years in what industry advocates call a US nuclear resurgence.

Odair Goncalves, head of the government nuclear energy commission, said council approval seems inevitable despite opposition from Marina Silva, who is concerned with nuclear waste storage and disposal.

“The discussion has got to the highest level after finally maturing at the ministries. Nuclear energy is now on president’s agenda,“ Goncalves told Reuters.

Waste is stockpiled inside the complex, making the disposal issue increasingly serious, environmentalists say. Goncalves said it was common, and safe, practice around the world, while a permanent waste storage facility was being planned.

 

PIN/ REUTERS

News Code 104927

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