By Florencia Barragan
President Alberto Fernández and his Brazilian counterpart, Lula da Silva, re-launched a strategic alliance between both countries, as one of the first measures taken by the Brazilian president upon his arrival to power. One of the chapters is related to nuclear energy and technology.
In this field, Argentina has an ambitious agenda, which includes doubling the share of nuclear energy in the energy matrix, which could require five nuclear power plants (there are currently three). In addition, the country will invest some US$ 1 billion in a nuclear reactor that could be exported for millions of dollars. This was revealed by Adriana Serquis, president of the National Atomic Energy Commission, in a conversation with Ámbito.
Integration with Brazil
In a note published by Alberto Fernández and Lula da Silva, they informed how this nuclear alliance will be: "We will consolidate our position as suppliers of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, strengthening the Brazilian-Argentine agency of accounting and control of nuclear materials, and giving continuity to ambitious projects, such as the multipurpose reactor"
In an interview with Ámbito, Serquis, who holds a PhD in physics and is a senior researcher at Conicet, said that the partnership between Argentina and Brazil in nuclear matters seeks to strengthen agreements for peaceful uses of this technology. "Between 2022 and 2023 Argentina was chosen to lead the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the following period is assigned to Brazil. It is very important to lead these economic groups, because they are forums where key nuclear non-proliferation issues are discussed, through strict controls on what materials can be traded internationally and used for the development of nuclear technology."
Reactors for export
Argentina has an ambitious nuclear agenda. Next year, the installation of the components of the Carem nuclear reactor, a "mini nuclear power plant" that only a handful of countries are building, could be completed. The civil work, which is being carried out in Lima, province of Buenos Aires, is 75% complete, while the project as a whole is at 63%, and could start up in 2027, although the original date was 2024.
"This year we have to start 120 contracts to 120 new companies for components, and the Secretariat of Energy authorized us to incorporate 200 people for the project, for engineering, logistics and thermohydraulics", anticipated Serquis.
At the moment, the State has invested around u$s 600 million in Carem, and the total investment when it is completed will be close to u$s 1 billion. "The NuScale project in the United States will have an investment of US$ 1400 million, although ours is a smaller prototype, we are not doing badly in terms of efficiency", said the head of the CNEA.
The question that everyone is asking, and that still has no answer, is how many millions will be able to export this technological development, in a country that celebrates when the soybean ton reaches u$s600. "The initial data are still very preliminary because they depend on too many variables. For its sale, it will also be interesting to have a partnership with Brazil", Serquis indicated. In his trips to different international forums, he received inquiries from countries such as Bolivia, Arab Emirates, Ecuador and even Morocco. It is expected to be a market of only 300 SMRs (Small Modular Reactors). They could generate electricity in isolated cities, or be used in water desalination projects.
Nuclear power plants
Currently, nuclear energy has a 7% share in Argentina's energy matrix. "We will try to reach 2040-2050 by doubling the capacity, at around 15%," Serquis said. "For this reason, it will not be enough just to add one more power plant to the three existing ones, but two may be needed," she added. In addition, the researcher indicated that nuclear energy was one of the "beneficiaries" of the consequences of the energy crisis resulting from the war, and was even declared as clean energy at the last United Nations summit on climate change. " If we want industrial and technological growth we cannot leave it aside", he said.
In this sense, Ámbito asked about the status of the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant that China was going to finance, since the commercial contract was signed exactly one year ago with the state-owned Nucleoeléctrica Argentina. "It is awaiting the definition of several clauses", informed Serquis. Among the most outstanding negotiations is the financing, so that China will finance 100% and not 85%, in what could be a disbursement of more than u$s8000 million. In addition, the contract for the transfer of technology and intellectual property is under discussion. "We are working intensively," he added. Deadlines should be finalized by October 2023.