Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America

Emily Choi
May 28, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Montaje de Atucha II: One of Argentina's three nuclear power plant units and one of Latin America's seven units. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Latin America as a whole today stands as a nuclear weapon free zone, but it hasn't been this way all along. Although it took time and effort to have all Latin American countries to agree upon a complete prohibition of nuclear weapons in the region, different organizations and treaties resulted in today's peaceful state. [1] In this brief overview of the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America, we will first take a look at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its promotion of "atomic energy for peace, health and prosperity." [2] Furthermore, we will study not just the logistics of the Tlatelolco Treaty, but also how it contributed to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in Latin America. [3]

International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency, founded in 1957, is an international organization whose main purpose is to contribute to the peaceful use of atomic energy. [3] And this organization, through research projects, various international initiatives, publications, and conferences, actively participated in achieving non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in Latin America. [2] The Statute of the IAEA states that the members do not develop nuclear weapons or facilities because they want to ensure that nuclear energy is only used towards peaceful uses. [3] Its initial goal with Latin America was promoting radioisotope techniques, and now it has extended to implementation of power plants and other energy resources. [4] Therefore, although IAEA is not solely focused on Latin America, it has played an important role in directing Latin America as a whole in a peaceful direction regarding nuclear power throughout the past years.

Treaty of Tlatelolco

What had a much more concrete and direct influence on the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America was, however, the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which is also referred to as the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. Signed at Mexico City in 1967, the treaty required a complete disarmament in Latin America in order to stop the armaments race. Although it entered into force in 1969, it took Cuba decades to finally sign and ratify the treaty between 1995 and 2002, completing the list of all Latin American countries. [1,5]

The importance of the Tlatelolco Treaty is that it was a concrete and definite end to nuclear weapons in Latin America. It is perhaps the biggest contributor to and accomplishment of the nuclear disarmament in Latin America. It strictly prohibited nuclear weapons and addressed responsibilities not just of Latin American countries but also of other nuclear powers of the world. [3] The treaty explicitly prevented all sorts of traces for nuclear weapons but prohibiting "testing, use, manufacture, production, or acquisition" of any nuclear weapons in any way, not in any region that a state rules, including in the air. This treaty established Latin America as a complete nuclear weapon free zone and set an example for those who will follow its steps.


If the role of IAEA was more indirect and broad, that of the Treaty of Tlatelolco was much more direct and powerful. However, despite their different influences on the nuclear disarmament, they were both successful in getting all Latin American countries to agreeing upon removing nuclear weapons on their grounds and will permanently work towards social and economic development using nuclear energy. For example, nuclear energy in Latin America is not fully developed yet, as seen in the net capacity of operating plants in the following countries as of December of 2016: Argentina's nuclear power plants amounting to around 1632 MWe, Mexico to 1552 MWe, and Brazil to 1884 MWe, compared to USA's 99869 MWe. [6] These three countries are the only ones with nuclear power plants, and these nuclear power plants only are about three to seven percent of each country's national energy, (see Fig. 1 for one of the seven nuclear power plants in Latin America) but more power plants are being developed and implemented in future years. [7] Thus, the future of Latin America in relation to nuclear energy looks bright.

© Emily Choi. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] "Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America," in "Final Act of the Fourth Session of the Preparatory Commission for the Denuclearization of Latin America," Preparatory Commission for the Denuclearization of Latin America, 14 Feb 67, p. 18.

[2] P. L. Johnson, "Nuclear Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency," International Atomic Energy Agency, 5 Oct 15.

[3] H. Gros Espiell, "The Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America," IAEA Bull. 22-3, 81 (1980).

[4] "Introduction - Latin American and Nuclear Energy," IAEA Bull. 18-3, 19 (1976).

[5] C. Ta, "The Treaty of Tlateloco," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.

[6] "Nuclear Power Reactors in the World," International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-RDS-2/37, May 2017.

[7] K. Berry, "Background Paper - Latin America: Nuclear Facts and Figures," International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, April 2009.