Brazilian Navy’s Nuclear Submarine Shows Progress

The Brazilian Nuclear Program gets a boost with the cornerstone laying of the Brazilian Multipurpose Reactor and the start of turbogenerator integration tests.
Taciana Moury/Diálogo | 7 August 2018

Capacity Building

The Electronuclear Energy Generation Laboratory’s turbogenerators are in the integration testing phase. (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

The Brazilian Nuclear Program took a step forward in its quest for nuclear technology capacity and autonomy, and the construction of the Brazilian Navy’s (MB, in Portuguese) first nuclear-powered submarine with a cornerstone ceremony of the Brazilian Multipurpose Reactor (RMB, in Portuguese), in June 2018. The event kicked off the turbogenerator integration tests of the Electronuclear Energy Generation Laboratory (LABGENE, in Portuguese).

The construction of RMB marks a strategic move for Brazil, which has the fifth largest reserve of uranium in the world. The project consists of a multipurpose research nuclear reactor and an entire infrastructure with laboratories and facilities to respond to the country’s demand for increased radioisotope production for nuclear medicine. 

José A. Perrotta, RMB technical coordinator, said the reactor will support nuclear and technological development in the energy and propulsion fields. “RMB research and development facilities will become national laboratories, available for the country’s scientific community, contributing to the creation of specialized human resources,” he added.

The RMB complex will operate in a 200-hectare area located next to the Aramar Nuclear Industry Center in São Paulo. MB donated most of the land—the São Paulo government expropriated the rest. The Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations, and Communications (MCTIC, in Portuguese), with the support of other Brazilian government agencies, coordinate the construction of the complex.

“They will build the 30-megawatt research reactor building, a radioisotope processing unit, a radiochemistry and neutron activation analysis laboratory, a neutron beam laboratory, and a waste treatment and storage unit, in addition to other support facilities for research and operation,” Perrotta said. It will take six years for the complex to initiate operations. 

Key technology

During the initial integration tests of LABGENE’s turbines, Admiral Eduardo Bacellar Leal Ferreira, MB commander, highlighted the importance of the laboratory as a prototype for the future nuclear submarine’s propulsion system. “As we improve the nuclear fuel process in the Brazilian industry, we will meet the needs of the naval force and society,” he said.

According to MCTIC’s Communication Center, LABGENE will host the naval system tests for steam propulsion. “The Brazilian nuclear submarine is strategically important to the defense of Brazilian territory. In addition, the construction process benefits from the Navy’s proficiency in nuclear fuel cycle and reactor construction technology,” MCTIC’s Communication Center indicated.

Admiral Eduardo Bacellar Leal Ferreira, MB commander, said LABGENE serves as a prototype for the future nuclear submarine’s propulsion system. (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

For Rear Admiral André Luis Ferreira Marques, director of MB’s Nuclear Development, turbogenerator integration epitomizes the industrial capability in the design, manufacture, and electromechanic assembly for reduced spaces in a submarine hull, per industrial and naval-military safety requirements. The officer also highlighted the impact of technology on health. “LABGENE strives to improve and master several common systems with RMB, including instrumentation, controls, and protection of nuclear systems associated with reactors,” said Rear Adm. Ferreira Marques.

According to MCTIC, Brazil has four research nuclear reactors, the largest being the IEA-R1 reactor, installed in the Nuclear and Energy Research Institute in São Paulo. The country spends more than $15 million importing materials, since it still lacks the capacity to produce the necessary radioisotopes.

 Brazil carries out nearly two million procedures in Brazilian nuclear medicine per year, with 30 percent of the national demand through the Unified Health System, Brazil’s healthcare system. “In addition to covering the $15 million in expenses, the reactor can double the amount of radiopharmaceuticals available to society,” MCTIC indicated.

 According to Perrotta, with this equipment, the country will have the capacity to research and produce radiopharmaceuticals to diagnose and treat cancer and other diseases. “RMB will increase supply to nuclear medicine, ensuring sustainability and saving some $10 million per year on radioisotope importation,” Perrotta said.

 LABGENE, located in MB’s facilities in Iperó, São Paulo, will house the turbines, pressurizer, and fuel, as well as a submarine waste packaging area. To date, about 65 percent of the industrial infrastructure for the construction, operation, and maintenance of submarines has been completed. When LABGENE becomes fully operational it will have a 48-MW nuclear plant, powerful enough to feed the subsystems required for submarine propulsion.

 Nuclear submarine

According to MB’s Social Communication Center, construction of the nuclear submarine should be completed by 2029. The Submarine Development Center concluded the basic project in January 2017. The next phases, MB’s Social Communication Center indicated, will focus on details and construction.

 The Brazilian nuclear-powered submarine will add a new dimension to the country’s naval power. “Thanks to its mobility and autonomy, the nuclear-powered submarine can monitor distant maritime areas, fulfilling Brazilian’s interests to protect its vast continental platform and deter hostile pursuits,” MB’s Social Communication Center pointed out.

Unlike conventional submarines, nuclear submarines have greater mobility and autonomy and are essential for patrol operations in remote ocean areas. While conventional submarines move at a speed of six knots (about 11 kilometer per hour), nuclear-powered submarines can reach 35 knots—about 65 km per hour.

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