Beware of Strangers Bearing (Nuclear) Gifts

Russia Offers Nuclear Technology To Brazil

The Russian nuclear agency, Rosatom, is offering Brazil advanced uranium refining technology and new nuclear power plants. “We have a firm conviction that if modern technologies were used here, then natural uranium reserves in Brazil could be increased by many times, at least threefold but possibly five- or tenfold,” said Rosatom Director Sergei Kiriyenko.  Kiriyenko made these remarks in Brazil this past week.   The two countries expect new trade deals to reach close to $10 billion. 

With vast uranium reserves, Brazil is a top ten global producer of uranium.  Whether the Brazilians take up the Russian on this offer remains to be seen.  Who knows what the Russians are asking for in return.  It will not be a free transfer of Russian technology.  Should the U.S. be concerned?  What Brazil does to develop its civilian nuclear program is Brazil’s business.  One would think Brazil would rather work with a U.S. company and help generate goodwill and enhance economic contacts with the U.S.  Under its current leadership, however, expect quite the opposite.   When it comes to nuclear weapons and technology, however, it becomes a regional problem, not just some domestic concern for Brazil. 

As far as the Bush Administration is concerned, based on its public statements, or lack thereof, during the past few years Brazils’ not pursuing a nuclear weapon is a fait accompli.  Speaking recently at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace,  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lumped Brazil as one of several countries that had “forsaken nuclear weapons.”  While Brazil tends to use all the right diplomatic non-proliferation buzz words in public, its actions and comments by leading military officials show cause for concern.   

When Lula Da Silva ran for President the first time he said why should developing countries fight with a “slingshot” when neighbors, i.e., the United States and others, have atomic bombs?  While Da Silva cooled this rhetoric after the 2002 election, and is no longer making this argument on behalf of developing countries, on or about mid-2000s Brazil announced it was expanding its refining capacity, building more nuclear power plants, but was not going to allow full and unfettered inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In 2007, a Brazilian four star General and former head of the Brazilian War College, said on Brazilian television that “if the government agrees, we need to have the ability in the future to develop nuclear weapons.” Da Silva has also continued to criticize the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as do most leaders of developing countries, as an agreement tilted in favor of the U.S. and other advanced powers. 


The literature debating nuclear non-proliferation is quite vast.  Diplomats and policymakers argue constantly about peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the right of all powers to use it, and the various treaties and agreements that form the framework of global non-proliferation efforts.   What seems to be missing from this chatter is blunt talk.  

The next Administration will have a unique opportunity to re-craft U.S. policy in the Americas.  It must add non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology to the mix of issues.  Topping that list should be Brazil.  Brazil cannot have a nuclear weapon, period.  Brazil must cooperate with the IAEA without restrictions.  If we demand as much from Iran and North Korea, how can we not ask of it from our friends in the Americas?  If Brazil has nothing to hide, it will be an easy process. 

Despite U.S. officials’ lack of concern, there remains a patchwork of words and deeds that show, at a minimum, that Brazil has left the nuclear research door somewhat open for both the civilian and military sectors. In addition to legitimate civilian research, as part of its overall military modernization program, Brazil plans to purchase several nuclear-powered submarines. Earlier this year, Brazil’s foreign minister announced cooperation with Russia to expand Brazil’s existing civilian nuclear power program.  And this week, Russia made an offer to sell Brazil advanced technology to increase uranium production.

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