Argentina's Nuclear Energy History

Ale Navarro Goldaraz
March 5, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Origins of Nuclear Energy Development

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

Argentina's Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) Atucha I was connected to the National Electric System on March 19, 1974, after 6 years of construction (Fig. 1), becoming the first nuclear power plant in Latin America. [1] As of January 2018, Argentina has 2 fully functional Nuclear Power Plants (Atucha I and Embalse) and one additional plant in construction (Atucha II). [2]

Atucha I

Atucha I is located on the right bank of the Paraná river, approximately 100 kilometers away from the city of Buenos Aires. It uses lightly-enriched Uranium (0.85% U-235) to produce a gross electrical power of 362 MW. [1] The immediate success of this Uranium fission nuclear plant paved an encouraging path towards additional nuclear projects.

Importance of Energy Production

Achieving complete energy independence is cumbersome for a country like Argentina, because of its large size and unequal distribution of population. Most of the population is concentrated in urban sectors close to the coast, while the rest of the people are extended over the entire country. Energy produced in excess in one area of the country might be almost impossible to transport to another region of the country. Currently, 96.4% of the total population have electrification (leaving 1.5 million people without proper care). That breaks down to 99.2% coverage in urban areas and 96% in rural and semi-urban regions. Altogether, Argentina has an energy deficit (covered by imports from neighboring countries mostly) of 9.018 GWh (around 7.35% of consumption). At the same time, the two functioning NPPs cover 4.07% of the total countrys energy demands. [3] A third additional plant could go a long way to reduce the countrys energy imports, which is one of its main sources of capital leakage. The new reactor is designed to withstand an energy production higher than either of the existing reactors (around 3~4% of consumption coverage).

Concerns with Further Proliferation

There' s a plethora of concerns regarding the proliferation of nuclear energy in less economically developed countries (LEDCs), such as Argentina. Mainly: the lack of infrastructure development and the lack of political stability. [3] As with most NPPs, Atucha I and Embalse have had their fair share of issues. Investment in nuclear energy maintenance has barely been able to keep up with the plants natural infrastructure decay. In 2012, there was a power shortage that shut down Atucha I for several hours, leaving thousands of households without electricity. Although there was no risk of a meltdown, as the plant effectively safeguarded the enriched Uranium, the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services sidelined the idea of building additional NPPs until the current ones prove to be reliable. [1] Furthermore, Mycle Schneider confidently claims, any plans to expand a countrys nuclear program will need a politically stable setting as these, potentially decades long, programs need political transcendence. [2] Argentina has a mere 35 years of uninterrupted Democracy (the last dictatorship ended in 1983) and has already been through multiple economic crisis (and even two defaults). [3]

Looking ahead

The future of nuclear energy in Argentina is very much uncertain. An originally promising alternative to fossil fuels, nuclear energy has suffered disappointing setbacks that have derailed its proliferation. [2] Currently, the country is focusing its investment in alternative sources of renewable energy, mainly hydroelectric. [1]

© Alejo Navarro Goldaraz. 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] "Atucha I salió de Funcionamiento y hay Problemas de Suministro," La Voz, 7 Feb 12.

[2] "De la Energía Nuclear en la República Argentina," El Litoral Editor, 16 Feb 14.

[3] A. E. Calcagno, "La Situación Economica de la Argentina," Econ. UNAM 12, 16 (2015).