Brazil to Start Enriching Uranium at Resende Print

Peaceful Uses

NPSGlobal, update 11 Jul 2011.

The Brazilian newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo, informed yesterday that Brazil is about to close its nuclear fuel cycle, without external intervention. It pushes forward the country's uranium enrichment program . The article also comments the advances of the submarine project called ProSub. 

Both projects are on the Brazilian Navy's hands.

The completion of the construction stage of the Usexa plant was announced by the newspaper as a milestone which allow Brazil dominate the entire nuclear fuel cycle. The facility, designed to convert natural uranium concentrate, yellow cake, to uranium hexafluoride is located in the Navy's Aramar Center of Iperó, Sao Paulo State. More details can be found in the article below.

With the plant working, Brazil will be able to process the uranium concentrate at a domestic facility and therefore will avoid sending it to Canada for UF6 conversion. The Usexa project had to be completed at the end of 2010, and it should have entered in operation three months later, but it suffered difficulties with suppliers and delays. Finally, in the next weeks the facility will receive it first batch of yellow cake to be processed, and in September new sensitive elements such as uranium nitrate and fluoride acid.

Testing will take around 150 days, and Admiral Júlio Moura Neto, the Navy's Commander, stated that the plant will be in full operation by 2012. Usexa will produce 40 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride that will feed the enrichment plants.

O Estado de Sao Paulo points that such volume is enough to meet the Brazilian Defense's needs. the Technological Center is also devoted to produce ultra-centrifugues able to separate the uranium 235 from natural uranium. Uranium enrichment is limited to 5% and 20% on the other line.

The nuclear submarine project is advancing as well. The research and development center was reactivated by former president Lula da Silva, and it monthly receives 130 million reais (83 million dollars).

By 2016 technicians will start a long integration between the reactor and nuclear submarine's hull. The vessel with 100 meters length will displace 4,100 metric tons. It is expected to enter into operation by 2022. The cost of the reactor was 130 million dollars, it is partially completed at the Aramar Center.

The consortium appointed by the Navy to carry out the project is composed by the Brazilian Odebrecht Defesa and the French DCNS. The Navy command retains the golden share for key decisions.

The French group will transfer conventional submarine technology. At this first stage, the deal will involve 4 units with diesel-electric engines and the nuclear submarine's hull. The value of this stage is 1,800 billion reais (1,152 billion dollars) and it includes a sophisticated shipyard and a naval base. The first conventional submarine, a Scorpene is expected to be completed by the second half 2016. The value of the whole project estimated in 6,700 billions reais (4,200 billion dollars).

The ProSub, official name of the project, was considered, according to the Estado de Sao Paulo, a strategic factor for Brazilian national defense. The area of interest in the sea, which requires to be protected, is estimated as equivalent to the size of Western Europe, about 4,5 millions square kilometers. Such area is considered as very rich in natural resources such as strategic metals and oil.

World nuclear news, 23 Jan 2009. 

Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) has been issued a temporary licence by the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) to start enriching uranium on an industrial scale at its Resende plant.

INB has held an environmental licence to enrich uranium since November 2006, but the plant's operating permit, which is valid for one year, has been now been amended by the CNEN. Production of enriched uranium is expected to begin in February, with some 12 tonnes of enriched uranium expected to be produced by the end of 2009.

The ultra-centrifugation enrichment technology used at the plant was developed by the Naval Technology Centre in Sao Paulo (CTMSP) and the Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research (IPEN). However, the technology is similar to Urenco's technology.

The Resende plant currently has two cascades of centrifuges. It is planned that a further eight cascades are installed by 2012. By that time, INB is expected to be able to produce all the enriched uranium used in the Angra 1 reactor and 20% of that used in Angra 2. Those are the country's only operating power units at the moment, although plans to complete Angra 3 are advancing and many more reactors are expected in time.

Up until now, uranium used to fuel Brazil's nuclear power reactors has been sent as uranium concentrate to Cameco in Canada to be converted into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, which has then been sent to Urenco's enrichment plants in Europe. After enrichment, the gas has been returned to Brazil for INB to reconvert the UF6 gas to powder, which is then used to produce nuclear fuel pellets.

According to Samuel Fayad Filho, INB's director of production, 'The big breakthrough is that in future we do not depend on external services for an important technology.' He added that domestic production of enriched uranium would save Brazil some $25 million, the equivalent of how much the country spends to have its uranium enriched overseas.

Filho said that INB will request authorization from CNEN for permanent operation of the Resende plant after tests demonstrate that the enrichment technology works. He added that there are plans to raise enrichment capacity by 2015, including the construction of capacity to supply the planned Angra 3 unit.

The first cascade at the Resende plant commenced operation in 2006 and the second was expected to do so in 2008. Stage 1 - eventually to be four modules totalling 115,000 SWU per year and costing $170 million - was officially opened in 2006. Each module consists of four or five cascades of 5000-6000 SWU per year. Stage 2 will take capacity to 200,000 SWU.

INB's fuel fabrication plant, designed by Siemens, is also at Resende, with capacity of 160 tonnes per year pellet production and 280 tonnes per year fuel assembly production.