Brazil, a nation endowed with abundant energy resources, is getting close to completing its third nuclear reactor, Angra 3, whose construction is 65% done. This ambitious project, previously shelved due to corruption allegations, is gaining momentum as the government awaits confirmation from the BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development) regarding the feasibility of producing energy at competitive prices and, according to journal “Folha de São Paulo”, the plant can already produce 1 MWh for under R$ 500(U$ 100). The resurgence of Angra 3 presents a unique opportunity for economic growth, while being environmentally friendly, and a strategic shift towards cleaner energy alternatives.
The history of this reactor traces its roots back to the late 1970s when Brazil initiated its ambitious foray into nuclear energy. The decision to expand the nuclear power program led to the conceptualization and planning of Angra 3, positioned as the third reactor in the Angra Nuclear Power Plant complex. Formalized in the early 1980s, Angra 3’s construction began in 1984 with the goal of enhancing Brazil’s energy production capacity. However, the project faced numerous challenges, including financial constraints and shifts in government priorities, leading to interruptions in its progress. After a hiatus, Angra 3 experienced a resurgence in the 2000s, aligning with Brazil’s growing energy needs and the push for a diversified energy matrix, only to again be slowed down by corruption allegations in 2015.
In a significant development in 2021, the BNDES enlisted a consortium led by Tractebel to breathe new life into the Angra 3 project, a cornerstone of Brazil’s nuclear program managed by ENBPar(Brazilian Company for Participation in Nuclear and Binational Energy). Reports indicate that the cost of producing 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) in Angra 3 could be below R$ 500, a substantial reduction compared to the current R$ 2,000 per MWh charged by thermal power plants in the Northern region. This potential cost efficiency aligns with the government’s criteria for project continuation, although the final decision rests on the government’s willingness to greenlight its completion.
Angra 3, considered a vital component of the ENBPar’s nuclear program, requires an additional investment of R$ 17 billion to reach completion(more than the budget for 24 state capitals in the country for 2022). This and the cost per megawatt have both brought up concerns about whether or not the government should instead invest in solar energy, which has a cost of R$ 100(U$20) per megawatt, according to a research back in 2018. Eletrical engineer and director of National Electric System Operator (ONS) Luiz Eduardo Barata, however, says it must be finished.
“Considering the amount of money already invested in the construction of Angra 3, I understand that this power plant needs to come to fruition to serve the population. What needs to be carefully analyzed is the expansion of this nuclear park. I am against new plants because the expansion of our energy matrix should occur based on renewable energies.”– Luiz Eduardo Barata
Within the government, the Angra 3 project has ignited debate and division. The Ministry of Defense, emphasizing alignment with the energy transition and emissions neutrality, views Angra 3 as a strategic investment that could catalyze further developments in the uranium production sector. Brazil, possessing one of the world’s largest uranium reserves and the necessary technology for fuel production, is eager to compete in a market currently dominated by Russia, the USA, and France.
Many critics argue that, given Brazil’s abundant renewable energy resources, the focus should be on expanding the use of clean and sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydropower. They contend that investing in nuclear power may divert resources away from developing these alternatives.
Angra 3, situated on Itaorna Beach, follows the Pressurized Water Reactor model with a capacity of 1,350 MW, designed by Siemens/KWU (now Areva NP). Construction began in 2010 but faced significant setbacks. The IBAMA granted installation licenses, and the CNEN provided preliminary construction licenses. In a positive turn of events in November 2022, construction resumed, focusing on critical structures and electromechanical assembly.
Angra 1 and 2
In 1982, Brazil marked a milestone with the commencement of commercial operations at Angra 1, boasting a capacity of 657 MW. The early years were marked by operational challenges and disputes between Furnas Centrais Elétricas and Westinghouse, the plant’s supplier. However, by 1995, technical issues were resolved, and operational performance improved significantly.
Adding to Brazil’s nuclear capabilities, Angra 2 commenced operations in 2001 with a capacity of 1,350 MW. Constructed with German technology (Siemens/KWU) under the Brazil-Germany Nuclear Agreement, Angra 2 achieved a remarkable 90% capacity utilization in its first year of operation.
As Brazil inches closer to completing Angra 3, the government faces the delicate task of balancing economic benefits, environmental considerations, and energy security. The success of the project could signify a pivotal moment in Brazil’s nuclear energy sector, contributing to energy independence and addressing the increasing demand for cleaner power sources.
It’s important to note, however, that as much as critics like to point out the “danger” and “environmental impacts” of nuclear energy, it is many times cleaner and safer even than solar and wind. If you wish to learn more about the topic, youtuber “Kyle Hill” has a great series of videos on it: