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Brazil's nuclear ambitions attracting contractors' interest

Brazil produces 3 per cent of its electricity output using nuclear power from two reactors, Angra 1 and Angra 2, near Rio de Janeiro, with total capacity of about 2,000 megawatts. It is now building Angra 3 and has plans for several more plants.

Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images/Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

With its vast hydro power, ethanol and oil resources, Brazil might not seem a likely next frontier for the world's nuclear industry.

But the country's rapidly growing economy, changing demographics – with a growing middle class consuming more electricity – and the need for a diverse energy mix have led Brazil to announce an aggressive expansion of its nascent nuclear program.

"The Brazilian nuclear program envisages the construction of eight additional nuclear power plants, for which the location studies have already begun," Brazil told the International Atomic Energy Agency last year.

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Brazil's ambitious plans for the sector, which remain in place in spite of the Fukushima disaster, are attracting interest from many of the industry's biggest contractors. These are led by France's Areva Group and GDF Suez, with talk that EDF, the world's largest producer of nuclear power, may also be interested.

"There is a huge demand in Brazil and we have the know-how and the expertise to meet that demand," said GDF Suez, which is already the largest private electricity producer in Brazil. "We have long had a presence in Brazil and we believe it offers a stable and welcoming regulatory framework to develop power-producing projects."

The development of the industry also extends to uranium mining, with Brazil gearing up for a six-fold increase in production of the mineral to keep pace with its planned expansion of nuclear energy production.

Brazil produces 3 per cent of its electricity output using nuclear power from two reactors, Angra 1 and Angra 2, near Rio de Janeiro, with total capacity of about 2,000 megawatts.

According to Areva, "the country has fully mastered virtually all nuclear technologies." In addition to operating plants, Brazil has 158,000 tons of uranium reserves or 6 per cent of the world's conventional reserves, the French company said.

The country is planning to add the additional power plants over the next 19 years. It is currently building the 1,400 megawatt light water Angra 3 project, also near Rio de Janeiro, which is scheduled to become operational in 2015 at a cost of nearly 10 billion reais ($5.6-billion).

Eletronuclear, the government-controlled subsidiary of electricity utility Eletrobras, said the best example of foreign investment in Angra 3 is Areva, which invested €1.1-billion ($1.5-billion) in providing equipment and some of the engineering.

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"Many foreign companies have already offered their services for Angra 3 but, obviously, all the contracts are subject to the bidding processes under way or about to happen," it said.

To feed these plants, Industrias Nucleares do Brasil, the nuclear energy group, is planning to double production of uranium at its Caetite mine in the northeastern state of Bahia to 800 tonnes a year and start producing 1,500 tonnes a year by 2017 from a new mine further north in the state of Ceara, the company said last month.

A recent report said Brazil's known reserves could triple in size with further exploration, which would place the Latin American country on a par with Australia and Kazakhstan in terms of uranium deposits.

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