Nuclear Energy in Latin America

Carlos Ezquerro
March 8, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Atucha Nuclear Plant in Argentina. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite a clear and necessary focus on nuclear proliferation in states like Iran and North Korea, the past decades have yielded certain advancements and setbacks for nuclear energy in other parts of the world. Latin America, for example, serves as an interesting case study of attempts by less economically developed countries (LECDs) to develop nuclear energy programs and demonstrates the ways in which global trends impact their successes.


Nuclear energy first made its appearance in Latin America in the 1950s and 60s, with Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil all establishing governmental organizations to explore the development of a nuclear energy program. Of the three countries, Argentina built the first reactor in 1974 in Atucha, which was followed by a reactor in 1983 (see Fig. 1). [1] In total, the three reactors provide for approximately 5% of Argentina's energy consumption and are overseen by the Comision Nacional de Energa Atomica. [2] Brazil followed soon after, establishing its National Nuclear Energy Commission in 1956. [3] By 1982, it built its first reactor, Angra 1 (seen in Fig. 2), which was followed by Angra 2 in 2000. [1] In 1989, Mexico became the third Latin American state to develop a nuclear energy program. [1] Despite rich natural gas reserves, the country built its first and second reactors in 1989 and 1994. [3]

Reemergence in the 2000s and 2010s

After decades of relatively low growth in Latin American nuclear energy, there appeared to be an increased interest in developing a more vibrant nuclear energy industry. On the whole, many Latin American countries sought to develop alternative, inexpensive forms of electricity, ostensibly to counteract rising and uncertain gas prices.

Fig. 2: Angra 1 Nuclear Plant in Brazil. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As a result, three additional power plants were proposed in Argentina in 2006 as part of a long-term nuclear plan, and talks with Russia resulted in a cooperation a agreement for the development of two additional sites. [4] Moreover, Brazil in 2006 announced plants for four new nuclear reactors with the potential of many more to come; as in Argentina, Russia was considered as strong strategic partner for the Brazilian projects. [5] Recently, Bolivia announced a partnership with Russia and Argentina to build a $300 million dollar research reactor with the hopes of establishing a long-term nuclear program; this agreement adds on to existing agreements with France and Argentina. [6]


Despite strong interest in many countries, nuclear energy has also faced many setbacks in Latin America. First and foremost, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has led to a worldwide concern with the safety of nuclear power and dissipating political support for the technology. Feasibility in Chile is still being investigated, but Chile's geological positioning on a fault line presents substantial real and perceived risks that may not be overcome. [7] In Mexico, economic constraints led to the abandonment of its ten scheduled nuclear plants as its extensive oil and gas reserves kept costs of conventional energy lower.


On the whole, Latin America accounts for a small percentage of global nuclear energy production, and nuclear energy production accounts for only a small part of Latin Americas energy production. Following a surge of interest in the 1950s and 60s, plants were built in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. In the mid 2000s and 2010s, with some plants nearing the end of their lifespans, some countries decided to pursue partnerships with other nations to build additional facilities, while new countries sought to adopt the technology. In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, however, political support waned, and many interested countries have since cancelled upcoming projects, while others have found traditional forms of energy to be less expensive and more appealing.

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

[2] "Argentina to Start Building Two New Nuclear Reactors in 2018," Reuters, 31 Oct 17.

[3] "Brazil - Survey of Nuclear Agencies, Facilities," Open Source Center, 9 Feb 09

[4] A. Anischuk and R. Lough, "Putin Signs Nuclear Energy Deal with Argentina," Reuters, 12 Jul 14.

[5] H. Zepp-LaRouche, M. Billington, and R. Douglas, The New Silk Road Becomes the World Land-Bridge (EIR News Service, Inc., 2014).

[6] "Bolivia Plans to Build $300m Nuclear Complex with Research Reactor," The Guardian, 29 Oct 15

[7] E. Lacey-Bordeaux, "Chile Quake: This Was Big but a Bigger One Awaits, Scientist Says," CNN, 2 Apr 14.>