Nuclear Energy in Brazil

Aron Tesfai
December 13, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Operating Nuclear Power Plant in Angra, Brazil. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

During the middle parts of the twentieth century, Brazil was regarded as one of the leading innovators in the development and refinement of nuclear energy. With the formation of the Nuclear Research Council, Brazil began developing nuclear energy in 1951 and accelerated their operations with the emergence of the military regime in 1964. Nonetheless, nuclear development took stride in 1975 when the Brazilian government passed a referendum to become fully self-sufficient, reaching trade agreements that would allow the country to build eight 1300 MWe nuclear units over a 15-year period. [1] Although economic recessions would later plague the development of these nuclear units and the production of viable nuclear energy, the military regime joined Argentina in the race for weapons of mass destruction in 1970, partnering with Germany in what was called the "Parallel Program." However, this race for arms was renounced by both countries in 1991, as economic struggle and diplomatic solution pushed Brazil and Argentina towards a long-term, peaceful resolution. [2] Despite already established plants, to this day, a very minimal portion of Brazil's energy derives from nuclear sources.

With an ensuing energy crisis and an economy that is already in deep recession, Brazil's stagnant nuclear energy program retains significant potential that may be able to steer the economy back towards an optimal state. With the production and capital benefits that a marginal increase in energy would provide, Brazil may be able to reasonably boost its overall GDP with a reinvigoration of its nuclear development.

Energy Shortage

Currently, two pressurized reactors in Angra, Brazil, pictured in Fig. 1, are the only active nuclear power plants producing electricity. Output estimates range between 1200 MWe and 2400 MWe for the two plants combined, and a third facility currently under construction is expected to produce up to 1405 MWe by 2018. [1] Although these figures demonstrate a somewhat significant contribution to Brazil's total energy output, the scope of the state, with its large population, advanced technology, and sheer size of land, present the need for greater energy production. [3] Currently, Brazil suffices this need primarily with hydro, gas, and oil outlets, producing 415 TWh, 47 TWh, and 20 TWh respectively. Although these relative production levels meet the current demand for energy, the rapidly growing per capita energy consumption each year puts Brazil at the brink of an energy crisis. [3] Moreover, climatic conditions that have been in place since the early 2000's, such as drought conditions and urban water limitations, restrict prospective hydro energy outputs, further exposing Brazil's energy vulnerability. [3]

Nuclear Energy Potential

The construction of two additional nuclear plants in Angra, Brazil was proposed in the mid 2000s, although talks were halted due to political barriers. It is estimated that two such plants would produce an additional 4000 MWe, helping to alleviate ensuing energy shortages. [1] Although the initial costs of developing nuclear plants is a significant concern, the already present mining resources for Uranium and other deposits from Brazil's nuclear program in the 1980s minimize the need for significant investments in marginal inputs. Moreover, Brazil already retains the capability for the domestic-enrichment of Uranium, further minimizing the cost of a revitalized nuclear energy program in the long-run. [1]

Opponents of an expansion of Brazil's nuclear energy program cite concerns over waste management and safety regulation. While these indeed are valid considerations, legislation already approved in 2001 provides a framework of multiple repository sites that can manage intermediate-level waste outputs. [4] Although this initiative doesn't provide a long-term plan to mitigating nuclear waste, it does offer a solution to more immediate concerns and allows for time to develop other measures that may better suit Brazil's needs in the long-run. With regards to regulation and safety, the development of regional oversight committees (within the already established government regulation program) delegated to each proposed plant and repository site has been proposed, so that supervision can be mitigated on a more specific, explicit level. [1]


While there are significant concerns for the expansion of Brazil's nuclear energy program, with issues over waste management, safety, and regulations, the potential for greater energy output at manageable long- run costs offer critical advantages. Further, with shifts in climatic conditions challenging Brazil's dependence on hydro outputs, along with the rapidly increasing demand for energy across the country, the need for alternative sources has never been greater. Although renewable energies like solar and wind are intriguing sources, the relatively low advancements in these technologies in Brazil would require massive production costs that would curtail their advantages. However, the already established nuclear energy program, along with its potential to expand, makes this source a viable option for the country's needs.

© Aron Tesfai. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] T. James, "Nuclear Dawn," IEEE 1704248, Power Engineer 20, No. 4, 14 (2006).

[2] A. H. Montgomery and S. D. Sagan, "The Perils of Predicting Proliferation," J. Conflict Resolut. 53, 302 (2009).

[3] J. Leahy, "São Paulo Drought Raises Fears of Brazil Energy Crisis," Financial Times, 11 Feb 015.

[4] A. Caubit, "Brazil Nuclear Energy Comission," Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear, June 2005.