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Home News Nuclear Energy Argentine Government seeks building a nuclear submarine by 2015
Argentine Government seeks building a nuclear submarine by 2015
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La Nación, with comments by NPSGlobal 4 Jun 2010.

During a meeting with the press, the Argentine Minister of Defense, Nilda Garré unexpectedly announced an initiative about developing nuclear propulsion for its Navy's vessels. Sources from the Argentine Government made clear that the Project is about propulsion and not about weapons of mass destruction.

The project would be based on a nuclear reactor developed by INVAP (the Argentine flagship high technology company) and such reactor could be operative by 2013. To install the reactor on a vessel could demand two more years.

Brazil has a current development of the same kind where the nuclear reactor is in charge of the Navy and the submarine's conventional part will be supplied by France. From the latter estimates that project is expected to be completed by 2020. If the Argentine project progresses according to the announcement, Argentina would count on nuclear propulsion five years in advance.  

Daniel Gallo commented for La Nación that the Minister explained during the meeting that: "Nuclear propulsion on the Navy's units will start changing the energy matrix." La Nación reveals that the project would be carried out with the agreement of the Presidency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ms. Garré only made public a venture already in progress.

The Minister pointed out that the Government seeks to restore country's former scientific, technological and industrial capabilities, and added that Argentina cannot stay away of such key technology.

The core of the development would be the CAREM, an advanced SMR [small-medium reactor] with outstanding properties which have been recognized worldwide. The INVAP's proposal would be to test and build the prototype for external sales, as a power reactor. Even so, following the sources, the CAREM would seem to have the adequate compatibility to become a naval reactor, able to power the engines of a TR1700 submarine. Parts of that submarine would be already available for assembly at a local shipyard.

La Nación cited that a reliable naval source confirmed yesterday that the Navy is already working on the Project. The same source highlighted that only nuclear armed states count on naval propulsion. Brazil aims at joining such selected group of naval reactors' possessors, taking into account that nuclear propulsion is a technology not forbidden by the NPT. Last year India joined the nuclear submarines' club. Other members are, so far, the United States, Russia, China, the UK, and France.

According to the newspaper, when Lula's Government boosted its naval project, several Ministers visited in Buenos Aires to explain the goals and scope of the operation, including the Brazilian wish to play as a first line international actor. Within such framework it was presented as natural that Brazil aimed at counting on last generation armament.

Argentina sought to participate on the Brazilian Project but it was not possible. There were conversations, mainly at the time of the February 2008's presidential agreement, with no positive result. 

A source from the Argentine Navy pointed out that Argentina always had the technological capability, but only the political decision was missing.

According to the announced schedule, the CAREM prototype would be in operation by 2013, whilst naval tests could be completed by 2015, when the reactor would be installed on a TR1700 submarine.

Reactions

The announcement generated diverse reactions at a local level, from support, to irony, and skepticism. The INVAP's skills and technological solvency is widely recognized. The firm won complex international tenders within the nuclear field such as the supply of the Australian OPAL research reactor, already in operation. 

However, several members of the opposition questioned the opportunity, and others remarked the project's low priority versus the Armed Forces reality with much more urgent needs, and "with the absence of a clear plan for modernization which can contribute to their full operability."

The well-known analyst Rosendo Fraga stated that the project generates many doubts, as the Brazilian strategic situation is pretty different from the Argentine one. He added that, in this sense, the last SIPRI Yearbook shows a Brazilian military expenditure ten times higher, for a GDP five times higher, than in the case of Argentina. This could reflect strong budgetary limitations that could directly impact on the maintenance of present capability, in some ways obsolete.

In addition, a strategic contest which involves both countries would be nonsense, Fraga states. Finally, he notices the negative consequences in terms of credibility of an announcement not accomplished, or diluted with passage of time.

Irma Arguello remarked that Argentina has got enough technical skills to reach success with the Project and nobody doubts about the qualities of INVAP, but the country's technological efforts should be focused on innovative lines which could consolidate the nation as a first line nuclear supplier, and at the same time, that could be favorable to its global technological insertion, and to keep its excellent nonproliferation reputation.

"It would be preferable to focus current capabilities on the successful development of nuclear power plants for regional uses, based on the CAREM's remarkable features.

Another very attractive and relevant line would be the conversion from HEU to LEU of research and other civil reactors, a knowledge already available at a nation level that will be increasingly demanded worldwide, given the renewed nations' security commitments mainly derived from the last April Nuclear Security Presidential Summit in Washington."

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