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The Nuclear Option in Uruguay

NPSGlobal
Eng Alvaro Bermudez

January 2013

Nuclear energy in Uruguay is banned, to build a reactor demands a new law.On December 5, 2008, the then-President Vazquez decreed the creation of a committee to make a feasibility study for a nuclear power reactor that would allow Uruguay to achieve nuclear generation.

Such committee, where he was included, was led by people representing both the ruling party and the opposition.

Four years after its creation, this committee obtained a million dollars from the national budget to finance their tasks, which include hiring national and international consultants services to study various subjects related to the nuclear option in Uruguay, a country with its own characteristics.

The committee so formed decided on his own to follow in principle the 19 steps advised by IAEA to begin the initial phase of study according to the publication: Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has given certain importance to this circumstance, providing sustained support for technical advice through technical cooperation projects. Thus, the IAEA developed several seminars at the highest level on issues such as the "sitting", i.e. the location of a first nuclear reactor in the country according to the conditions of a necessary geological stability, the technical industrial resources and safety among others.

To date reports have been released to the President-in-office reporting the progress of the Working Group. The conclusions are provided on various topics under study which include among others, the current state-of-the-art technology available and most suitable for the present and future situation of the electricity in the country, nuclear waste study, possible location of a first nuclear reactor, a survey of public opinion, project funding and economic and environmental impact scope. The nuclear fuel is a separate issue directly related to the technology chosen as well as the electricity-generating capacity of the first nuclear reactor. The observations on energy sovereignty are quite common in the country within stakeholders on nuclear technology being a major issue in debate. Noteworthy is the Uruguay's strategic location between two geographically and economically large countries such as Argentina and Brazil.

To be taken into account, there is also the growing regional power interconnection and especially with these two countries, whose energy complementation is real and evident even with the difficulty of having electrical frequency difference between Brazil and Uruguay, 60Hz in Brazil and 50Hz in Argentina and Uruguay.

The electricity consumption peaks have increased at an accelerated pace due to the Regional economic development by the worldwide high demand for food, being this a region that produce meat, soy, wheat, barley, high quality dairy products. The consumption peaks in winter and summer approach increasingly more and all electrical systems in the countries begin to have recurring energy crises due to climate variability that affects directly on renewable resources, especially water.

The price of electricity directly affects the level of competitiveness in industry and tourism, which could frustrate risk investments therefore the issue of the cost of energy becomes a matter of state policy. Extending the useful life of nuclear reactors to 60 years is very important in the current economic equation.

The international environmental requirements have turned more interesting the nuclear option due to the absence of greenhouse-gases emissions.

Summarizing, the option for nuclear energy in a country of 189,000 km2 like Uruguay faces additional challenges such as the dispose of resources for an initial investment of around 3,000 million dollars, plus the supervisory structures and security measures. It should also have solid technological assistance agreements, about the supply of materials, components and fuel, electricity export and final destination of nuclear waste generated by its first nuclear reactor.

Regarding the environmental dilemma, it should be noted the inevitable public mention of "repenting environmentalists" like James Lovelock, author of the Gaia theory, and Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace.

In his latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock says: “We should also be prepared for surprises, deadly local or regional events that are wholly unpredictable. The immediate need is to dispose of secure and safe sources of energy in order to keep the lights of civilization… Nuclear energy is free of emissions and it will not depend on imports in a future unstable world.”

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