Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Brazil wary on nuclear cooperation with Venezuela

Andrei Khalip, ABC News:
Brazil said on Monday it was unlikely to cooperate with Venezuela on nuclear energy if any such program involved Iran, as Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez had suggested over the weekend. READ MORE

"Brazil has an accord for developing energy for peaceful ends with Argentina and the United States. There is no accord with Iran or Venezuela," Vice President Jose Alencar told journalists. Alencar is serving as interim president for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is traveling to Asia.

A Science and Technology Ministry spokesman said Brazil had not yet received any formal request for joint work on nuclear energy projects from the neighboring country.

"In the view of possible Iran participation, as President Chavez suggested, such a partnership would be risky for Brazil," he said.

"Brazil is not interested in cooperating with countries that do not follow international treaties and whose nuclear programs are not monitored by competent authorities," the spokesman added.

Chavez, a critic of the United States and a leftist ally of communist Cuba, said on Sunday his government was interested in nuclear energy and could start talks with Iranian partners to study possible atomic projects.

Chavez said Venezuela and other Latin American countries, primarily Brazil and Argentina, could develop nuclear energy as an alternative power source for civilian purposes.

Chavez has backed Iran, branded by Washington as part of an "axis of evil," in Tehran's dispute with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program. U.S. officials accuse Iran of secretly working to produce nuclear arms, but Tehran says its nuclear program is only for civilian energy uses.

Edson Kuramoto, president of the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Association, said any decision on cooperation would depend on the Brazilian government and not on the industry, while the proposal was still very vague.

He also said Venezuela was lagging far behind Brazil in terms of nuclear energy research, which means that Venezuela would want to buy technology rather than fully cooperate as it would take it years if not decades to develop its own technologies.

"Brazil has been investing in the area for over 30 years, and Argentina for about the same time. According to information that we have, research in Venezuela is very little developed," he told Reuters.

Kuramoto said he knew of no nuclear fuel reserves in Venezuela but did not rule out their existence since Brazil discovered uranium in Para state in the Amazon, not far from Venezuelan border.

Brazil last year launched its own uranium enrichment plant which thrust it into an elite group of nations possessing a full range of nuclear capabilities from mining to fuel-making.

The plant opening followed a year of tough talks over nonproliferation inspections as Brazil struggled to protect its technological know-how in the area. The country operates two nuclear power reactors. Nuclear weapons research in banned by the Brazilian Constitution.