Our Latin America Nuclear Problem

Does the title of this blog post seem a little odd sounding, “Latin American” Nuclear Powers? A close friend was somewhat shocked when I told him earlier this week that Brazil and Argentina are the two more advanced nuclear powers in the Western Hemisphere. Mexico operates several reactors as well, but Argentina and Brazil are the regional nuclear trendsetters.

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Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva had a cozy relationship with Iran. While the relationship has been somewhat strained in recent years, Brazil and Iran remain close economic and political allies

My colleague, as is the case with most Americans, had no idea that there were reactors and ongoing nuclear research programs in various Latin American countries. Move over Iran. We have nuclear proliferation concerns right here in the Americas. Most policy experts in this town say there is no reason to really be concerned. I’m a little less sanguine.

It is not that these nations should not be trusted with nuclear technology. If a country wants to pursue a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. have at it. The question is, can these two particular nations be trusted to do the right thing?

The same questions we ask of regimes such as Iran and North Korea, are just as valid for Brazil and Argentina. Alright, the latter are not controlled by rogue regimes; however, the programs are anything but as transparent as they should be. And what about their cozy relationship, especially Brazil, with Iran?

Brazil and Argentina used to be more than soccer rivals. These two countries have been nuclear competitors, and at times, nuclear efforts have been the source of some tension. Realizing that they needed to work together, the past few decades has seen more cooperation in this field including the seemingly successful Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC).

Brazil — one of the Left’s poster child nations for green energy — has two nuclear reactors online for energy generation and four additional research reactors.  Argentina, the first Latin American nation to use nuclear power, has four reactors online for energy generation and five research reactors. Should we care? Should we be worried? Concerned? Yes. Yes. And, hell yes.

Pursuant to a treaty and various other international protocols, Latin America is supposed to be a nuclear-free weapons zone. There is no evidence that either country is pursuing a weaponized nuclear program. This does not mean that they have not tried to do so in the past. They did.

I’ve think we’ve trusted them way too much with nuclear technology. Considering that both countries have rocket launch capabilities, we should be a little more than vigilant. Both countries have space agencies that used to be under military control. That was the case with the nuclear programs. Brazil is reportedly building nuclear submarines now.

Argentina and Brazil relations with Iran should be reason enough to ask tough questions of our regional allies. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the global UN watchdog for these matters – has yet to be granted full access to either nuclear program.  What do they have to hide?

There are bigger issues at play here than just Brazil and Argentina tinkering with nuclear energy. Think, Iran, for starters. And regional democracies are concerned about it, but will not say so in polite company. It is DC you know. But the U.S. Congress need not worry about being polite or diplomatic. They need to chime in.

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