Brazil's Ambassador Discusses Nonproliferation

Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: A Brazilian Perspective

Jun 01, 2004

Ambassador Roberto Abdenur opened his presentation with the observation that there are many misperceptions about Brazil's nuclear program. To put the current issues of concern into context, he briefly reviewed Brazil's nuclear history. That history is one of Brazil's development of an advanced and robust nuclear sector in tandem with the government's accession to the nonproliferation treaty regime. In 1967, Brazil signed the Treaty of Tlatelolco establishing a nuclear-weapons free zone in Latin America, and, in 1991, concluded an agreement with Argentina for the exclusively peaceful use of nuclear energy. In 1998, Brazil acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The country's nuclear infrastructure falls under the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection regime.

Article IV of the NPT provides for access by non-nuclear weapons states to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes (such as energy generation). The U.S. fear has been that some signatory states, notably Iran and North Korea (and Iraq under Saddam Hussein) were exploiting the Article IV provision in order to acquire technology and fissile material for a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Against this backdrop, the Bush administration is pushing for limitations on access to nuclear fuel cycle technology (i.e., to enrich uranium and to reprocess spent fuel rods from reactors, containing plutonium) and for the adopting of a heightened IAEA inspection regime (i.e., the "Additional Protocol). Ambassador Abdenur stated that, contrary to some press reports, Brazil would accept safeguards for it new uranium enrichment facility at Resende. The question is not if there will be safeguards, but how they will be implemented. Abdenur believes that the challenge will be to strike a balance between the IAEA's responsibilities and Brazil's legitimate right to protect commercial secrets (relating to its highly advanced centrifuge technology). He further stated that in addition to focusing on Article IV, the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states recognized by the NPT should do more to fulfill their commitment under Article VI to achieve nuclear disarmament. Ambassador Abdenur argued that developments such as the Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review document, which underscores the continued utility of nuclear weapons, appear to erode that commitment.

Luis Bitencourt noted that during the 1980s Brazil's military government maintained ambiguity about the country's nuclear intentions, never acknowledging that a covert nuclear weapons program existed. In the early 1990s, with the return of civilian rule and democracy, President Fernando Collor de Mello took demonstrable steps to end that ambiguity. For that reason, and given steps by Brazil to join the NPT regime, Luis felt there was some resentment in Brazil that the current issues relating to nuclear fuel cycle inspections have again raised the question of the country's nuclear intentions.

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