Nuclear Power in Argentina

Dennis Chang
January 11, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: The Atucha II plant in 2010. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Argentina's nuclear program started in the 1950s, with personnel being trained. [1] In 1950, the National Commission for Atomic Energy (CNEA) conducted Argentina's first nuclear program, with the first research reactor being built in 1953 under the Atoms for Peace Program. [2] In the 1960s, Argentina had mastered nuclear fuel element processing and built its own research reactors. [2]

Mining of minerals and metals started in the 1960s. By 1974, Atucha I, Argentina's first nuclear power reactor was operational. A decade later, Embalse, the second Argentine nuclear reactor was operational. While the first nuclear reactor involved importing operations from West Germany, the second nuclear reactor was built with substantial contributions by domestic construction and engineering firms. [1]

Argentina has further demonstrated mastery in nuclear fuel cycle, evidenced by their operation and construction of the Pilcaniyeu enrichment plant. Nevertheless, economic crisis has forced Argentina to severely curtail nuclear research projects in the past. [1]

Argentina had plentiful supplies of natural uranium, which made the choice of employing heavy water reactors a logical choice as this design lessened Argentina's reliance on foreign supplies of enriched uranium. By 1976, CNEA announced the construction of a third nuclear power plant, the Atucha II, as well as a commercial heavy water plant that eliminated Argentina's need for oversea supplies of uranium. [2]

In the early 1990s, Argentina had constructed a gaseous diffusion enrichment facility in Bariloche, as well as a demonstration plutonium reprocessing unit at Ezeiza (near Buenos Aires). This latter processing unit provided Argentina with direct access to weapons-usable plutonium, but due to construction and operational problems, the plant suspended operations in 1990. [2]

In August 2006, Buenos Aires announced a $3.5 billion initiative to finish the construction of Atucha II, restart a heavy water production plant in Neuquen and conduct research for the construction of a fourth power plant. [2]


In Latin America, Argentina has the most advanced nuclear energy program, deriving approximately 10% of its electricity needs from this source. [3] The Atucha and Embalse facilities are currently fully functional, supplying nuclear power to the country. With the Atucha II plant being built currently, Argentina is planning to privatize these three facilities. [3]

© Dennis Chang. 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] P. Leventhal, Averting a Latin American Nuclear Arms Race (Palgrave Macmillan, 1991).

[2] J. Doyle, Nuclear Safeguards, Security and Nonproliferation (Butterworth-Heinemann Homeland Security, 2008).

[3] Argentina Energy Policy, Laws and Regulations Handbook, Vol. 1: Electricity Generation, Development and Regulations (International Business Publications, 2008).