Brazil Close to Achieving Nuclear Independence

CTMSP has developed an isotopic enrichment cascade as part of the Brazilian Navy’s nuclear program.
Nastasia Barceló/Diálogo | 13 January 2017

Scientists from the Nuclear and Energy Research Institute attend the successful operation of the isotopic enrichment cascade. (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

Using only domestic technology, the Brazilian Navy’s Technological Center in São Paulo (CTMSP, per its Portuguese acronym) assembled and manufactured an isotopic enrichment cascade, an instrument which separates uranium isotopes into parts to supply the Brazilian Multipurpose Reactor (RMB, per its Portuguese acronym), which produces nuclear fuel. RMB has many objectives related to nuclear medicine, including the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It can also be applied in areas like agriculture and the environment. The project is part of the Brazilian Navy’s nuclear program launched in 1978.

CTMSP is located on the campus of the University of São Paulo, and the Aramar Experimental Center in the municipality of Iperó, also in São Paulo. Both military organizations were inaugurated between 1986 and 1988 by the São Paulo state government to encourage and develop research in coordination with other public and private institutions useful to the Brazilian Navy. The state of São Paulo was selected as the site for research and other projects in the nuclear area because of its premier industrial park, engineering school, and research centers.

CTMSP is the main body responsible for the Brazilian Navy’s Nuclear Program. The center’s director, Rear Admiral André Luis Ferreira Marques, told Diálogo that during its 30 years of operation, three projects stand out in the nuclear sphere: the Fuel Cycle Project, the Electronuclear Energy Generation Laboratory Project, and the Infrastructure Project.

The last innovation incorporated by CTMSP was the isotopic enrichment cascade, which will give Brazil independence in the nuclear sphere by facilitating the production of nuclear fuel. The cascade was put into operation on December 8, 2016, and has the capacity to enrich uranium to 19.95 percent.

“The RMB ensures Brazilian nuclear independence,” explained Rear Adm. Ferreira Marques. “The goal is to decrease external independence with respect to the inputs used in radiopharmaceutical research procedures. Also, it will be used in materials tests and fuels used in the construction of the nuclear submarine.”

“The RMB project was developed when the goals for the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations, and Communications were established in 2007. However, it was in 2013 when it began to go from paper to reality,” said Dr. Luís Antônio Albiac Terremoto, researcher and member of the University of São Paulo’s Nuclear and Energy Research Institute (IPEN, per its Portuguese acronym).

“Through the production of radioisotopes, Brazil will be able to pay for this large investment in at least 20 years,” Dr. Albiac said.

According to the Brazilian Air and Naval Defense website (www.defesaaereanaval.com.br), the isotopic enrichment cascade was developed by the National Nuclear Energy Commission in conjunction with the Foundation Park of High Technology Iperó Region and adjacencies, and financed by the Financier of Studies and Projects.

“With the implementation of the cascade, it is very possible that the quantity of radiopharmaceuticals may be doubled, opening up the possibility of exporting surplus material to a market that is currently dominated by Canada, France, Holland, and South Africa,” Dr. Albiac said.

Dr. Albiac explained that between 2009 and 2011 nuclear reactors manufactured in Holland and Canada were facing a profound crisis in terms of the supply of radioisotopes, which resulted in the subsequent suspension of millions of processes around the globe. In this sense, the start of the cascade constitutes an achievement for science and technology in Brazil.

Brazilian Navy nuclear program

The Brazilian Navy’s nuclear program was founded in 1978. Among its most notable achievements is its success in obtaining low-enriched uranium in 1987, which led to the inauguration of the Aramar Experimental Center in 1988.

Budget cuts forced the Navy to suspend the construction of its nuclear submarine in 1996. However, it kept CTMSP models of nuclear-attack submarines in a naval base, as a clear sign that it was not completely abandoning its plans.

In August 2005, it was publicized that the first domestic prototype of a nuclear reactor had been completed and warehoused. A few months later, Brazil inaugurated a uranium enrichment plant in Resende.

In 2007, the Navy confirmed through the National Defense Strategy document that Brazil was officially resuming construction of its nuclear submarine. The document stated that that, “to ensure the goal of denial of the use of the sea, Brazil will have a submarine naval force encompassing conventional submarines and nuclear-propulsion submarines.” This gave rise to the Submarine Development Program.

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