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Brazil Wants U.S. Assistance on Nuclear Waste Matters, But What About Complete Access?

This week, U.S. Department of Energy officials are meeting with counterparts in Brazil to discuss energy cooperation.  At about the same time Brazil announced new construction to complete another civilian nuclear reactor, Brazil’s Energy Secretary said this week that Brazil could benefit from U.S. technology and experiences in dealing with nuclear waste.  The U.S. should consider the request, but only if Brazil grants the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or U.S. inspectors complete and unfettered access to Brazil’s nuclear program, specifically, its uranium enrichment processes.  What does it have to hide among friends?

Brazilian President Lula da Silva managed early on in his presidency to tone down his anti-American rhetoric and found that working with the U.S. would benefit Brazil in many ways.  Relations between Lula and President George Bush are reportedly warm and cordial.  According to the State Department we have a wide-array of common issues and cooperation areas, and have are actively working on biofuels and education projects.  Then there are core issues on which fundamental disagreement remains including dealing with Brazil’s ally, Communist Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia’s FARC, to name a few.  But, overall, despite the ideological differences, it appears as if the U.S. and Brazil have found common ground in key areas. 

In the non-proliferation arena, Brazil has signed the right pieces of paper “including ratification of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signing a full-scale nuclear safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), acceding to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and joining the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.” (See State Department)  Yet, there are very senior Brazilian officials who keep insisting, sometimes publicly, that it is Brazil’s right to pursue advanced military nuclear research.

Brazil possesses one of the largest uranium reserves in the world, yet it refuses to open up its refining processes to international or American inspectors.  Brazil’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation has a spotty past and will be closely scrutinized in the years to come.  Brazil also has a robust and maturing rocket propulsion program and several senior leaders that keep making public comments about Brazil’s right to engage in advanced military nuclear research.  If Brazil wants to be take seriously in this field, it needs to address these inconsistencies.  A nuclear military power in Latin America would destabilize the region and surely open the door to other powers, namely Venezuela, wanting similiar technology.

Brazil needs to lift this cloud over its nuclear program and put to rest concerns that it may be pursuing military applications for its nuclear program.  While its industrial espionage concerns are warranted, what does it have to hide from a good partner such as the U.S.?  Indeed, if Brazil needs our assistance and access to advanced U.S. nuclear technology and know-how for dealing with nuclear waste, then now, more than ever, Brazil should show some good faith and grant U.S. officials access to their uranium refining processes.

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