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Lula resumes nuclear program to make Brazil 'world power'

AFP | July 11, 2007

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday relaunched the country's nuclear program, promising to complete a nuclear submarine and a third atomic power plant both mothballed 20 years ago.

"Brazil could rank among those few nations in the world with a command of uranium enrichment technology, and I think we will be more highly valued as a nation -- as the power we wish to be," Lula said at the navy's Technological Center in Sao Paulo.

"If money was lacking, it won't be lacking now," Lula said.

Finishing the nuclear submarine would cost an estimated 68 million dollars over eight years, he said.

"And who knows, with a little more (money), we may build it sooner, because it is running late," Lula said, 20 years after the project was abandoned.

He also confirmed the government would complete the Angra III nuclear plant in Rio de Janeiro state, after the National Committee on Energy Policy approved the project two weeks ago.

"We will complete Angra III, and if necessary, we'll go on to build more (nuclear plants) because it is clean energy and now proven to be safe," Lula said. The plant will cost 3.5 billion dollars over five and a half years, he said.

"Nuclear energy has been tested and approved in Brazil. It is safe and we have the technology. So why not go for it?" Lula said.

Two weeks ago Lula said the country's energy demand was growing at five percent a year. He said the government had to assure investors that there would be no energy shortage after 2010.

"Investing in nuclear energy is a strategic choice because it ensures an energy supply and puts Brazil in that select group of countries that harness nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," Energy Minister Nelson Hubner said last week.

Greenpeace criticized Lula's announcement as reviving a dream of Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime, which Lula battled as a trade union leader.

"He will reignite the 30-year dream of the military, with no benefit -- but lots of problems -- for the country," Greenpeace anti-nuclear leader Guilherme Leonardi told AFP.

Leonardi said the submarine could be "used for spying or sneak attacks and is unneeded in peacetime."

"Nuclear energy is unnecessary because it is expensive, dirty, dangerous and outdated," he said, adding: "Brazil has enormous potential in clean, environmentally friendly solar and biomass energy."

Brazil has the world's sixth largest reserves of uranium, and completing the nuclear submarine would help Brazil to learn uranium enrichment.

Brazil could then command the complete nuclear fuel cycle, from mining to recycling, navy commander Julio Moura said recently. A submarine-size reactor could also power a small city, he said.

"We have what it takes to become a great energy power and we are not going to give that up," Lula said.

However, Lula's Environment Minister Marina Silva opposes the projects: "In the last 15 years, no country has built nuclear power plants because of the problems with the waste.

"We have other sources of power: a great potential in hydroelectric, and clean energies in which we should invest," she said.

The 2004 opening of a uranium enrichment facility in Resende, outside Rio de Janeiro, triggered international controversy.

Brazil, a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, obliged the International Atomic Energy Agency to accommodate Brazil's demand for an inspection regime that protected the plant's technology and trade secrets.

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