Nuclear Energy in Argentina

An official perspective on the successes of the Argentine nuclear program dating to the 1950s, which includes nuclear energy and the soon-to-be launched third nuclear power plant, but also exploration of uranium, nuclear medicine, and joint energy development programs with Brazil.

Norma Boero
Norma Boero

Invited Contributor: Norma Boero authored this piece exclusively for The Review. She has been President of Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission since 2008.  Full biography at end of article.

The Argentine National Atomic Energy Commission (“CNEA” by its initials in Spanish) celebrates its 63rd anniversary this year. Since inception the organization has been active in the development of activities related to nuclear power and its application in peaceful uses, particularly in the context of key achievements and main goals of the National Nuclear Plan (NNP) re-launched in 2006 during the Kirchner administration.

The new millennium found Argentina with an experience developed since 1950 — year of the organization’s creation — and fully embarked on the reactivation of the NNP. Consequently, it was essential to have valuable intellectual capital and experience gained over the last sixty-three years of history that allowed us to consolidate a consistent and responsible nuclear sector.

In August 2006 it was officially announced the decision to restart the nuclear activity in the country, which included the establishment of a program for the short and medium term, based on two main objectives: (a) the consolidation of nuclear power as a feasible option and (b) to develop applications and benefits of nuclear technology in the fields of public health, industry and agriculture. This program has been continued by current President Fernandez de Kirchner.

The new technical requirements, as a consequence of this reactivation, became a real challenge that demanded the development of an ambitious strategic plan in order to guide the implementation of our activities. Specifically, the CNEA’s 2010-19 Strategic Plan includes all institutional activities. It also provides a framework for their execution with the financial and human resources available. It is important to consider that the production of the Strategic Plan demanded an intense and extended institutional effort that included several CNEA working groups in different areas, requiring almost two years of work.

Currently, with the support of the Minister of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services, the Nuclear Plan progress continues at full speed and the CNEA plays a key role in this process. There is no doubt that the main milestones in the national nuclear field are:

  1. the imminent start of the third nuclear power plant — Atucha II — which after fifteen years of delay, will add 745 electric megawatts to the national grid;
  2. the contracts signed with the Canadian company, Candu Energy, for the Embalse nuclear power plant life extension, which allows the extension of its life and license for another thirty years, the increase of its capacity by 5% and the significant national industry participation in areas such as the provision of pressure tubes and steam generators (CNEA obtained the certification of its materials testing laboratories);
  3. the development of “CAREM 25” prototype, a low-power nuclear reactor of national design. The recent activities involve the development of civil works at the site where the reactor will be located (near the Atucha I and II nuclear plant site), and we are also carrying out the prequalification of the tender for the construction of the pressure vessel and the licensing works.

The development of the CAREM reactor represents one of the most significant milestones in the national nuclear plan. It will be the first 100% Argentine-designed nuclear reactor and it will have a distinctive place in the international market of small and medium sized reactors. This type of reactor has a strategic importance to supply energy-intensive demanding industries and isolated regions with a reliable power source. Also, this reactor has the latest technology that makes it an inherently safe reactor using passive measures from its cooling system by natural convection and associated shut down measures and also contains the main components within the container pressure, which eliminates many of the hazards associated with large pipes and components outside the reactor.

In this sense, we should highlight the negotiations carried out with the world’s main nuclear power plant builders in order to outline our national technological future regarding nuclear energy. The challenge is to incorporate additional NPPs that will allow us to increase the nuclear share on our energy mix, maximizing national work and industrial capabilities as much as possible, ensuring the sustainability and evolution of the technological and scientific system associated to our nuclear sector.

Taking into account uranium mining reactivation, environmental restitution works continues at places where the activities were developed, reaffirming CNEA’s commitment with the nuclear safety and the environment care. This is a key condition to face extraction activities in new deposits and to restart the production of the ones that were interrupted.

Additionally, and in order to assure the autonomy of our nuclear plan, CNEA develops exploration activities of new deposits all over the national territory. On the Cerro Solo site, reserves were increased by 478 tons of uranium. In the province of Chubut, CNEA owns four deposit property titles and three prospect areas at San Jorge’s Gulf were granted. At the Donato III site, a deposit situated in La Rioja province, the continuity of the uranium mineralization was corroborated and in Salta, new uranium anomalies and two levels of mineralization were detected at Sierra de Vaquería.

Regarding uranium enrichment, reconditioning and equipment completion tasks at the Pilcaniyeu Technological Complex were conducted to start activities the first days of June. This activities and others enrichment technologies such as laser and centrifuges, are the base of our national fuel cycle, ensuring the provision and the efficient use of our energetic existing capabilities.

In the field of nuclear medicine — and particularly on radioisotope production for medical uses — we should highlight the license obtainment to commercialize the first radioisotope registered under CNEA name, the 18-FDG product. Choline and gallium were also authorized in the Nuclear Diagnose Center Foundation (FCDN). The Center of Nuclear Medicine was also updated through the provision of computerized thyroid catching equipment, a lung ventilation study system and a radio scanner for radiopharmaceuticals quality control. The first cycle of Technics in Nuclear Medicine took place there. On the other hand, the Oncological Center of the Nuclear Medicine of Ángel H. Roffo institute opened a nuclear cardiology sector. Both facilities have SPECT/CT for patients diagnose.

In line with this, our Nuclear Diagnostic Center inaugurated in 2007, it is featured with advanced and fully equipped facilities to study combined positron emission tomography (PET) and multi-slice computed tomography (CT), which integrate the latest technology in nuclear medicine and imaging diagnose. It is important to remark that we do not depend on the external provision of radiopharmaceuticals because we have a qualified laboratory that produces them from the cyclotron installed near it. In addition to the PET/CT studies, our equipment allows CT scans of latest generation, thereby providing an additional service to the community.

Additionally, CNEA, the National University of Cuyo and the Mendoza provincial government created the Nuclear Medicine School Foundation – FUESMEN — launching a graduate career in nuclear medicine and radioisotopes, driven by its desire to promote peaceful applications of nuclear energy in health field. Within the purpose of CNEA to provide the school the proper academic and technical infrastructure that would ensure the creation of an area of excellence in the specialty, it has acquired new Varian Clinac equipment, a unique technology in the country. This means we’ll be among the most recognized worldwide centers in cancer treatment, allowing treatments of the tissues that change their shape and position throughout the process. Consequently, FUESMEN has launched a new linear accelerator with images on board, giving oncology patients a team equipped with a Radiotherapy Tomography, which allows the implementation of a Cone Beam Computed Tomography (Cone Beam CT), entering the era of Image Guided Radiation Therapy in Real Time.

CNEA develops capabilities linked to the radioisotope production, supplying the Latin American market – which nowadays produces 5% of Mo99 world consumption — and it works with every nuclear medicine center linked to the institution, contributing to endow them with the last generation equipment and encouraging the opening of new establishments.

Internationally, CNEA has continued to strengthen the interaction with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), participating actively in the meetings of their main bodies and their activities and events within its technical cooperation programs. In this sense, CNEA recently signed an agreement for the establishment of the RA-6 research reactor located in the Bariloche Atomic Center (CAB) as a Latin American on-line reactor platform for human resource training, convinced that training and education in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy is one of the greatest challenges of the region and it is a field in which our country can contribute.

On the other hand, CNEA has strengthened Argentina’s presence and participation in meetings of international nuclear forums such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), the Review Conference of the Nonproliferation Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT), the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC).

This presence consolidates the defense of the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes that our country and particularly this national commission have promoted for more than half a century. In this way, Argentina has a globally recognized reputation as a responsible country with nuclear technology capabilities and respectful of the international nonproliferation regime.

Regarding the technical cooperation at the bilateral level, CNEA has put special emphasis on the increasing relations with a wide range of countries of the five continents, ranging from the development of joint programs with countries with a major relative nuclear development, to the assistance to newcomer countries that are just beginning with activities in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

We must mention that cooperation with Brazil has an outstanding place in this matter, because of joint projects. The most significant is the construction of two research reactors: the RA-10 in Argentina and RMB in Brazil, both multipurpose reactors and jointly designed. This way, Argentina will build, in cooperation with its neighbor, a reactor with similar characteristics taking as a base the successful experience of our country in the design and construction of research reactors, such as the OPAL reactor sold to Australia. This reactor will have as main objectives the production of radioisotopes as well as the scientific and technological development for both countries. This project — and the other ones linked to the NPPs — will allow new developments on fuel elements and its general nuclear cycle.

Our nuclear technology applications and the excellence on academic training in the three institutes supported by CNEA – Balseiro, Sabato and Beninson — represent the strong push given by the government in recent years. That means a strong effort and commitment with human resources training in nuclear technology, covering a generational gap, sharing the knowledge from our most talented professionals. In short, these young students will be the future of our national nuclear technology.

The delicate problem of the diverse environmental challenges, joined to the volatility of energetic resources prices that produces the greenhouse effect, and the unpredictability of the supply are factors that generate a fast reconsideration about nuclear energy in countries without a background in this sector. This energy source is recognized as one of the cleanest, securest and environmentally reliable with the environment, and that can mitigate the effects of climate global change. Therefore we work for the expansion on national nuclear energy, developed in a sustainable way, secure within the framework of the guarantees of the non-proliferation of nuclear arms regime, controlled and regulated by an independent national regulatory system.

© Latin American Energy Review 2013

About the Author:

Norma Boero has been President of Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission since 2008. She joined the government agency in 1978, became head of the Nuclear Fuel Department in 2003, and is also a board member of INVAP, the main national technology company.

Ms. Boero participates actively in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors, General Conference and other several thematic forums. She has assisted to several international meetings, symposiums and conferences in the nuclear area as the Reduced Enrichment for Research Reactors (RERTR), and also participates in International groups of discussion and policy making in the nuclear area as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), the Binational Commission of Nuclear Energy between Argentina and Brazil (COBEN).

Ms. Boero holds a degree in Chemistry from the Universidad de Buenos Aires from 1975.

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