Friday, May 12, 2006

Brazil joins world's nuclear club

Brazil has joined the select group of countries with the capability of enriching uranium as a means of generating energy.

A new centrifuge facility was formally opened on Friday, May 5th at the Resende nuclear plant in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

As Iran faces international pressure over developing the raw material for nuclear weapons, Brazil has opened 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 nuclear energy.

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."

Brazil's enrichment program -- and its reluctance to allow unlimited inspections -- has raised suspicions abroad. It is also speculated that some of the equipment used for enrichment in Brazil may have been acquired through the
A.Q. Khan network.

"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.

Recent paper on Brazil's nuclear program by Nuclear Threat Reduction Campaign

A history of Brazil's nuclear program from

5/26/2004: Brazil, China weigh nuclear trade deal

One day after announcing that Brazil was negotiating the export of uranium and nuclear technologies to China, the Brazilian government Wednesday tried to calm fears raised by the potential accord.

Brazil's decision to pursue enrichment capabilities is a direct challenge to a new doctrine proposed by President Bush in February. Although a global Non-Proliferation Treaty allows uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes, Bush, concerned that terrorists may build a simple nuclear weapon, seeks a change to prevent countries that do not have enrichment capacity from obtaining it. In exchange, countries could buy nuclear fuel at a friendly price as long as they subjected themselves to tough international inspections.

Brazil rejects the Bush proposal and has been under fire since last year for refusing to allow spot inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) like those Libya and Iran recently agreed to.

James Goodby, a former nuclear arms inspector, said that by not opposing Brazil's enrichment project, Washington is undermining its own negotiations with North Korea and Iran to dismantle their nuclear programs.

"Once you adopt a selective policy on proliferation, you are on a slippery slope," said Goodby, now a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, a policy research organization in Washington.

During Brazil's 21-year dictatorship, ending in 1985, Brazil secretly sold more than 26 tons of uranium dioxide to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In 1989, the head of Brazil's nuclear weapons programs was hired by Saddam as a consultant.


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