Scientist: Brazil Nearly Built Atom Bomb
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Scientist: Brazil Nearly Built Atom Bomb

Associated Press | August 30, 2005
By MICHAEL ASTOR

Brazil's military continued work on an atomic bomb after it was ordered to scrap the program in 1985 and by 1990 had nearly finished building one, a leading nuclear scientist said.

Jose Luiz Santana, the former president of Brazil's nuclear energy commission, known by its Portuguese acronym CNEN, said the military was preparing a test explosion when the program was ultimately dismantled in August 1990.

Earlier this month, former President Jose Sarney, who led Brazil's first civilian government after a 1964-85 military dictatorship, told Globo TV that he scrapped a program to build an atomic bomb when he came to power. The ruling generals were long suspected of seeking nuclear weapons, but Sarney's comments were the first confirmation of the secret program.

Santana, however, said the military was still working on a bomb when former President Fernando Collor succeeded Sarney in 1990 and hoped to conduct an underground test blast in September of that year at a remote base in Brazil's eastern Amazon.

Military officials had even obtained the enriched uranium needed to fuel the bomb, Santana told Globo TV in an interview televised late Sunday.

Santana said it took him and his team seven months to dismantle the program.

"I took office in April 1990 ... but it was only in August that CNEN managed to gain control of the container" of enriched uranium from the military, Santana told Globo.

He said the military obtained the uranium from another country but declined to identify it. He also refused to name military officials behind the nuclear effort.

CNEN denied Santana's contentions. "There do not exist any documents in the institutional archives or information that prove the claims in the story," it said in a statement Monday.

It added that all nuclear material in Brazil is stored with the knowledge of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In 2003, Brazil's science minister at the time, Eduardo Campos, caused a furor when he said Brazil should pursue "any form of scientific knowledge, whether the genome, DNA or nuclear fission."

Many took the comment to mean Brazil intended to develop nuclear weapons. The government denied having any such goal, stressing that Brazil's constitution bans the use of nuclear energy for non-peaceful purposes.

Brazil's nuclear program again stirred concern last year, when the government announced it was working to enrich its uranium and refused to allow the U.N. nuclear agency to inspect nuclear facilities in Resende, 60 miles southwest of Rio.

The government cited the need to protect industrial secrets. Eventually an agreement was reached allowing the inspections to go ahead with Brazil having to unveil its centrifuges.

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