Brazil's Struggles With and Corruption in Nuclear Power

Colin McCall
May 9, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Early Years of Nuclear Energy in Brazil

Fig. 1: The site of the Angra 3 plant, with much construction surrounding it, in May 2015. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Nuclear energy in Brazil started in the 30s when different fields of study started to get explored. After nearly two decades of studying fields like Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, the Institute of Atomic Energy (IEA) was created. [1] With this institute study was done on the uses of nuclear and atomic sciences for medicine and education purposes. It wasn't until much later did study into reactor design and engineering happen to take place. Due to pressure from the military regime of Brazil in 1964 to 1985, Brazil expedited its nuclear program and looked to start building reactors. [2] Finally in 1971, due to the military state's pressure, Brazil decided to build its first nuclear power plant in the municipality of the Angra dos Reis with an output of 750MW. [1] This structure was the start to the nuclear power generation in the country.

Nuclear Use in Brazil

Even though Brazil's nuclear program was pushed by the military regime in Brazil, the program never got implemented that effectively. Only 3% of the Brazil's electricity is generated from nuclear power today. [2] Even more surprisingly, however, Brazil is the only non-nuclear-weapon state where the military leases uranium enrichment technology to the civilian nuclear program. The navy drives technological advances in the nuclear field and has developed a nuclear powered submarine. [2] Brazil has 3 main reactors named Angra 1, Angra 2, and Angra 3. Angra 1 has had many issues recently and in the past. For the first 15 years of its operation it had a 25% load factor. [2] Recently the reactor was shut down because of problems with the steam cooling system. Angra 2 took around 25 years to build and has had problems of its own, although not as bad as those of Angra 1. Angra 3 work started in 1986, but due to the government issues and others it still hasn't been completed. One estimate is that the reactor will be completed by 2019, but some say that might even be a stretch. [2] As Fig. 1 shows, the Angra 3 plant was not even close to being finished in the spring of 2015.

Corruption in Brazil

Brazil's nuclear program has had setbacks due to corruptions, as often happens in other parts of the Brazilian economy. In September 2015 the former CEO of Brazil's nuclear power company Electronuclear was charged with accepting bribes. [2] It is very difficult for a country to develop and enhance nuclear power when (1) there is strong public opposition, and (2) prices for construction are jacked up due to corruption. The corruption problem is exacerbated by the fact that currently all nuclear power has to be built by the government. Policies are being looked at to allow private investors and companies to build reactors and bring nuclear power to Brazil, but until that happens nuclear power will be hobbled by Brazil's public corruption problem.


Nuclear power in Brazil has had a harder time getting implemented and used correctly compared to some other countries because of corruption issues. In addition, many people argue that Brazil shouldn't even try to use nuclear power. Brazil is a country of enormous size and has enormous renewable energy potential: sunlight, rivers, oceans, wind, and thermal and geothermal activity. [1] Only with public support, a strong decision for (or against) nuclear power, and a successful fight against corruption will Brazil be able to implement a strong nuclear power industry.

© Colin McCall. 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] J. F. de Carvalho, "The Role of Nuclear Energy in Brazil," Instituto de Estudos Avançados da Universidade de São Paulo, Estudos Avançados 26, 293 (2011).

[2] J. Green, "Brazil's Nuclear Power Program in Crisis," Nuclear Monitor, No. 811, 2 (23 September 2015).