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Overview Last updated: February, 2014

Brazil has never developed either chemical or biological weapons. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, however, Brazil appeared to many outside experts to be using its robust nuclear energy program to develop a hedge capability for nuclear weapons development. The international community—and the United States in particular—also worried that Brazil might use the technology from its space-launch vehicle program to produce ballistic missiles. [1] However, by the early 1990s, Brazil had renounced all interest in nuclear weapons and curtailed its ballistic missile program after transitioning to a civilian government and ending a nuclear and missile rivalry with neighbor Argentina.

Nuclear

Brazil is one of the few countries to possess competencies in all major dimensions of the nuclear fuel cycle, from mineral prospecting to uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication, albeit not yet on an industrial scale. Brazil has never developed nuclear weapons, and there is no evidence that it has the intention to enrich uranium above the 20% level. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, Brazil pursued an ambitious program of nuclear technology development, which included construction of an unsafeguarded uranium enrichment facility under the Navy's direction. [2] However, Brazil has since disavowed nuclear weapons and peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs), and become a state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). With Argentina, Brazil also established a bilateral inspection agency (the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), to verify both countries' pledges to use nuclear energy for exclusively peaceful purposes.

Brazil is also a party to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but it has not agreed to sign an Additional Protocol (INFCIRC-540) with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Some of the Additional Protocol's provisions, including unannounced inspections, are already included in the Quadripartite Agreement signed in 1991 by Brazil, Argentina, the ABACC, and the IAEA. [3] Some senior officials of current and previous administration have criticized the NPT as unfair, and believe that joining the treaty was a mistake. [4] The 2008 National Defense Strategy (NDS) states that Brazil will not sign any additions to the NPT until the nuclear weapon states have made progress towards nuclear disarmament. [5] Brazil is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and with neighboring Argentina has firmly opposed the passage of new guidelines that would make the Additional Protocol a condition of supply. In June 2011, the NSG approved revised guidelines for the export of sensitive nuclear technologies, and recognized the Quadripartite Agreement as an alternative to the Additional Protocol. [6]

Nuclear energy accounts for approximately 3% of the country's production of electricity, provided by two operating nuclear plants, Angra 1 and Angra 2. A third plant, Angra 3 is under construction, and when it becomes operational in 2014 nuclear energy will account for 4% of Brazil's energy grid. [7] Long-term plans call for the construction, by 2034, of four 1,000 MWe plants, and the expansion of nuclear fuel production to meet both increased domestic and possibly international demand. [8]

Reportedly, Brazil has started negotiations to sell nuclear fuel to China, South Korea, and France, although this has not officially been confirmed. [9] In the wake of the March 2011 accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Brazilian government has decided to invest $160 million in improving safety at its two operating reactors, and to delay the construction of additional power plants. [10]

Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB), a state-owned company affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology, oversees nuclear fuel production. INB operates mining sites with reserves estimated at 1.1 million tons tons. [11] In Resende, state of Rio de Janeiro, INB operates the Nuclear Fuel Factory (FNC), an industrial complex that houses factories and laboratories for re-conversion, uranium enrichment, fabrication of uranium pellets, and fuel element manufacturing. [12] Brazil cannot yet produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, and therefore depends on Canada (CAMECO) for conversion of yellowcake [13] into UF6 gas, and URENCO (a consortium consisting of the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands) for uranium enrichment.

In December 2008, Brazil approved a National Defense Strategy (NDS) that prioritized the development of nuclear technologies, including completing the program for producing nuclear fuel and building a nuclear submarine. [14] To fulfill these goals, Brazil sought cooperation agreements with foreign partners, including Argentina, [15] France, and Russia. [16] Brazil chose France as its partner for the construction of what will be a 4,000-ton nuclear submarine. France will provide technology, training, and assistance for the non-nuclear parts of the submarine, while the Brazilian Navy will equip the vessel with a nuclear reactor—the 2131-R pressurized water reactor being developed at Brazil's LABGENE nuclear site—and supply its fuel. [17] Though the Brazilian government has not officially confirmed the fuel type of the submarine, it will most likely use low-enriched uranium (LEU) manufactured at the USEXA facility. [18] Brazil plans to complete its first nuclear submarine, the Álvaro Alberto (SN10), by 2023, and hopes to eventually deploy a fleet of six nuclear submarines. [19]

Chemical

There is no evidence that Brazil has ever embarked on a chemical warfare (CW) program; to the contrary, Brazil is an extremely active participant in chemical weapons nonproliferation efforts. Even before the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) came into force, Brazil engaged in regional CW nonproliferation efforts. For example, in September 1991 Brazil, Argentina, and Chile signed the Mendoza Agreement, which commits signatories not to use, develop, produce, acquire, stock, or transfer—directly or indirectly—chemical or biological weapons. Brazil participated actively in the negotiations for the CWC and ratified it in March 1996, thereby becoming a charter member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Biological

There is no evidence that Brazil has ever developed or produced biological weapons. It ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1973 and signed the Mendoza Agreement in 1991, which prohibits the development, stockpiling or transfer of biological as well as chemical agents. Brazil's opposition to biological weapons is evident from reports that senior government officials oppose using biological agents even to control coca production in neighboring Colombia. [20] Brazil has one of the world's largest crops of the castor bean [21] (which naturally produces the toxin ricin), and is proficient in advanced dual-use techniques such as gene sequencing. [22] However, Brazil is an avid proponent of biological weapons nonproliferation.

Missile

In the early 1990s, Brazil abandoned its activities to build ballistic missiles, placed the Brazilian Space Agency under civilian control, and joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Previously, however, military control over the space launch vehicle (SLV) program and an ambitious short-range rocket export program had raised concerns in the international community that Brazil might develop ballistic missiles and export them to other countries, particularly Libya and Iraq. [23] The rationale behind Brazil's policy change can be attributed to various factors, including the transition to civilian democratic government, Argentina's dismantlement of the Condor 2 missile project, and Brazil's difficulty in acquiring sensitive technology for its space program due to constraints imposed on suppliers by the MTCR. [24]

Sources:
[1] Michael R. Gordon, "U.S. Seeks to Stop Brazil's Missile-Technology Deal," The New York Times, 19 October 1989, section A, p. 6, column 1, Foreign Desk.
[2] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats, Second ed. (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), pp. 395-397.
[3] "Agreement Between the Republic of Argentina, the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards," ABACC, www.abacc.org.
[4] Eduardo Fujii and Sarah Diehl, "Brazil Challenges International Order by Backing Iran Fuel Swap," NTI Issue Brief, 15 July 2010, www.nti.org.
[5] Sarah Diehl and Eduardo Fujii, "Brazil's New National Defense Strategy Calls for Strategic Nuclear Developments," NTI Issue Brief, 30 October 2009, www.nti.org.
[6] "Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)," Press Release n.237, Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 24 June 2011.
[7] Sarah Diehl and Eduardo Fujii, "Brazil Embraces Nuclear Energy With Decisions to Complete Nuclear Power Plant, Expand Uranium Enrichment, Fund Navy Nuclear R&D Activities," WMD Insights, September 2007, www.wmdinsights.org; Power Plants, Eletronuclear Website, www.eletronuclear.gov.br.
[8] Marta Salomon, "Brasil Quer Exportar Urânio [Brazil Wants to Export Uranium]," O Estado de S. Paulo, 11 August 2010; William Freebairn, "Brazil Plans Four New Nuclear Units by 2028, Industry Group Says," Nucleonics Week, Volume 52 / Number 8, 24 February 2011.
[9] Marta Salomon, "Brasil Negocia Venda de Urânio a China, Coreia do Sul e França [Brazil Negotiates Sale of Uranium to China, South Korea and France]," O Estado de S. Paulo, 7 February 2011.
[10] "Seminário sobre Fukushima: Eletrobras Eletronuclear implementará plano de ação para usinas de Angra até 2015 [Fukushima Seminar: Eletrobras’ Eletronuclear to Implement Action Plan for Angra Power Plants by 2015],” Eletronuclear, 15 March 2012;  Glauber Gonçalves, “Construção de usinas nucleares deve atrasar até um ano e meio, diz funcionário da Eletronuclear [Construction of  Nuclear Power Plants to be Delayed by One and a Half  Years, Says Eletronuclear Official],” O Estado de S. Paulo, 9 February 2012.
[11] André Borges e Tarso Veloso, "Brasil Investe no Processo do Urânio [Brazil Invests in Uranium Processing]," Valor Econômico, 4 February 2011.
[12] "The Nuclear Fuel Cycle," Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil, www.inb.gov.br.
[13] Yellowcake is a uranium concentrate containing about 80% uranium oxide. It is the result of a process to extract uranium from ore, usually referred to as milling. Yellowcake is used in the preparation of nuclear fuel. It is first converted to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) before going through the enrichment process. "The Nuclear Fuel Cycle," World Nuclear Association, www.world-nuclear.org.
[14] "Estratégia Nacional de Defesa [National Defense Strategy]," Brazilian Ministry of Defense, 17 December 2008, www.mar.mil.br.
[15] In August 2010, Brazil signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Argentina for the joint design of research reactors to produce radioisotopes. Daniel Rittner, "Argentina e Brasil acertam parceria na área nuclear [Argentina and Brazil Sign Nuclear Deal]," Valor Econômico, 4 August 2010.
[16] Brazil signed a nuclear cooperation memorandum with Russia on 21 July 2009 following an agreement reached during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Brazil in November 2008. Potential areas for cooperation include: design and construction of research reactors, production of radioisotopes, and the development of technologies for power reactors and uranium prospecting. "Russia, Brazil sign nuclear cooperation memorandum," Interfax News Agency, 21 July 2009, www.lexisnexis.com.
[17] David Oliver, "Brazil's PROSUB infrastructure takes shape," Jane's Defence Weekly, 2 May 2013; Sarah Diehl and Eduardo Fujii, "Brazil's New National Defense Strategy Calls for Strategic Nuclear Developments," NTI Issue Brief, 30 October 2009, www.nti.org.
[18] Greg Thielmann and Wyatt Hoffman, "Threat Assessment Brief: Submarine Nuclear Reactors: A Worsening Proliferation Challenge," Arms Control Association, 26 July 2012; Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, "Brazil Moves Toward Nuclear Submarine," Arms Control Today, April 2013, Vol. 43.
[19] Roberto Godoy, "Submarino nuclear brasileiro sairá do papel em 2016," O Estado de S.Paulo, 7 July 2012, estadao.com.br.
[20] "Biological Weapons in the Drug War. A Review of Opposition in South America," The Sunshine Project, Backgrounder Series, Number 3, December 2000, www.sunshine-project.org; "Brazilian security official concerned about Plan Colombia implications on border," O Estado de S. Paulo, 5 September 2000, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, www.lexisnexis.com.
[21] Elizabeth Johnson, "The Promise of the Castor Bean," Biodiesel Magazine, December 2004, www.biodieselmagazine.com.
[20] Larry Rohter, "Brazil Bounding Forward as Genomics Powerhouse," The New York Times, 1 May 2001, section F, column 5, Science Desk, p. 1, www.lexisnexis.com.
[22] Gary Milhollin and Gerard White, "The Brazilian Bomb, South America Goes Ballistic," New Republic, 13 August 1990, www.wisconsinproject.org.
[23] Wyn Q. Bowen, "Brazil's Accession to the MTCR," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1996, http://cns.miis.edu.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Brazil

  • Maintains a bilateral inspection agency with Argentina to verify peaceful uses of nuclear energy
  • Abandoned its ballistic missile program in the 1990s
  • Possesses an extensive peaceful nuclear program with advanced fuel cycle capabilities