Search in

Digital Archive International History Declassified

July 06, 1967


This document was made possible with support from the Carnegie Corporation

  • Citation

    get citation

    This is an Intelligence Report regarding Brazil’s nuclear activities prepared by the Argentine Navy, which seeks to estimate Brazil’s nuclear intentions in the near future. It is mainly based on newspaper articles as well as declarations of Brazilian high-ranked scientists, diplomats and military officials.
    "Argentina Naval Intelligence Service, 'Brazil: Prospects in the Field of Nuclear Energy'," July 06, 1967, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Rodrigo Mallea Archives
  • share document


English HTML

Seen by: Head Technical Information - Commander (R) Emilio R. Escobar

                Head Planning Department – Mr. José Luis Alegria

                President C.N.E.A. - Commander (R) Oscar A. Quihilialt

                Intervener: Mr. Fernando Perez Serrano


Section Page

General 1

Brazilian reactors 3

Research centers 4

Nuclear electric plants 4                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Scientists and personnel formation 5                                                                    

Raw materials (fissionable materials) 5

Brazilian atomic bomb 6        

Brazilian nuclear policy 7         

- Internally 9

- Internationally 11                     

- Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America 11

Conference on Disarmament in Geneva 14

Conclusions 20

NOTE: The present study has twenty (20) pages



The inauguration in the beginning of May 1965 of the reactor of the “Argonaut” class marked a new stage in the Brazilian evolution in nuclear science and technology and happened seven and a half years after the start of the operations of the research reactor of the “pool” type of the Institute of Atomic Energy at the University City in São Paulo, which was the precursor in that field in the country.

Following a recommendation by the National Security Council, the National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) was created in October 1956. This agency is today autonomous and the work and responsibilities until then placed under the Atomic Energy Commission ((CEA) and the National Research Council (CNPq) were transferred to it.

CNPq started the construction of the above mentioned “pool” reactor, with a thermal capacity of 5.000 Kw (using uranium enriched at 20%) from IEA-SP. The installation of this reactor was due to a commitment of collaboration between Brazil and the United States in the Agreement on the Use of Nuclear Energy in Civilian Applications. In the following year, 1957, within the scope of research and evaluation of atomic minerals, an aerial photogrametric and scintillometric survey was finalized. Its objective was to locate thorium deposits and uraniferous zirconium in the region of Poços de Caldas (Minas Gerais), Águas da Prata, (São Paulo/Minas Gerais), as well as deposits of tin and tantalum containing uranium in the valley of the Mortes River. Moreover, the whole stock of “fertile” material existing in the country (thorium and uranium oxide) was purchased.       

Also in 1967 CNEN signed an agreement with “Compagnie Industrielle et Agricole de Vente à l’Étranger” according to which that company committed itself to provide French entrepreneurs with financing for a total of US$ 8.4 million (besides cash advances of 1.2 million) for the acquisition and assembly in Brazil of equipment and components of a number of plants for processing zirconium ores containing uranium and found in the neighborhood of Poços de Caldas.

The year 1959 was marked by two remarkable facts: the opening at the Technical School of the Army, now Instituto Militar de Engenharia (EME) of the  first Brazilian nuclear accelerator, of the “cascade” type, later moved to the Brazilian Center for Nuclear Research; and the start of the construction (already in January 1960) of the Uranium Processing Plant at Poços de Caldas, which envisaged to attain an annual processing capacity of 10.000 t of ore (corresponding to 60 t/year of sodium urinate.

This was followed by studies and projects, the preparation of comparative budgets and specifications for the installation of nuclear electric plants and other plans, as well as the adoption of certain political positions that give rise to the concern that Brazil, one way or another, intends to achieve what could be described as its “nuclear goal”.    

The Brazilian evolution in the field of atomic energy, taking into account the most outstanding facts, could be chronologically summarized as follows:

1956: First attempt at the installation of nuclear electric plants, by the company “American & Foreign Power”, which included Brazil among the countries where nuclear plants of 10.000 Kw would be built. The company eventually gave up its plans.   

- 1957: Aerial photogrametric survey of the Poços de Caldas, Agua da Prata and valley of the Mortes River in order to locate uranium and thorium deposits.

Start of the operation of the research reactor at the Instituto de Energia Atômica of São Paulo.

Agreement between the National Nuclear Energy Commission and “Compagnie Industrielle et Agricole  de Vente à l’Etranger” for the purchase via a US$ 4.8 million financing operation, of two uranium ore processing plant in the Poços de Caldas region.

1958: Inauguration of the first nuclear accelerator of the “Cascade” kind, in the former Technical School of the Army.

1960: Start of the construction of the uranium processing plant at Poços de Caldas (State of Minas Gerais) First production of atomic fuel at the Institute of Military Engineering, yielding V-02 pellets (ammonium uranate).

1962: Adoption of the guidelines for the national atomic policy, with the plan to build three (3) nuclear plants.

Brazil-France agreement on assistance in the field of atomic energy.

1963 – The government suspends the export of atomic ores.

1965: Inauguration of the “Argonauta” reactor at the island of Fundão, at Guanabara. Signing of an atomic agreement with the United States, expanding the one signed in 1956.

Ratification of the Agreement on Cooperation in Field of Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy between Brazil and Paraguay, concluded in 1961.

Inauguration of the Nuclear Metallurgy Division at the Institute of Atomic Energy of São Paulo, at the University City.

Approval of a grant of 400 million cruzeiros to the National Research Council in order to finance the purchase of a new particle accelerator “Banali” with  18 million electrovolts, for the Department of Physics of the University of São Paulo.

1966: Installation, at the University of São Paulo, of a linear particle accelerator of the Van de Graaf type, for research at low energy. (In 1952 a linear particle accelerator of the Van de Graaf type, of 4 MeV, was built for the Department of Physics of the Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Letters of the University of São Paulo, which started its operation in 1959; in 1948 an accelerator of the “Betraton” kind had been installed at the University City in São Paulo and considered technically obsolete).

Signature of an agreement on collaboration in atomic research between Brazil and Israel.

First scintillometer manufactured in Brazil.

Signature of an agreement on nuclear cooperation between Brazil and Portugal.

1967: Signature by Brazil of the Treaty on the denuclearization of Latin America concluded in Mexico in the month of February. Brazil was the 17th country to sign.

Presentation of the Brazilian views in Geneva on a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, repudiating nuclear weapons but reserving the right to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, including atomic explosions for civilian objectives.


Brazil possesses four research reactors, viz.

- “Argonauta”, at Fundão island. (Rio de Janeiro - Guanabara) at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

-  at the Atomic Energy Institute in São Paulo, of the “pool” kind.

- at the University City in Belo Horizonte (State of Minas Gerais), of the “TRIGA” kind, in the Radioactive Research Institute.

- at the Air Force Technological Institute, in São José dos Campos, State of São Paulo.

Made in the United States, the reactors are meant for exclusive use in research with U-235 fuel enriched at 20%, as envisaged by the United States.

Brazil does not possess technical of economic resources for the construction of a power reactor and needs, in any case, support that might be rendered by some other nation. The cost of a reactor of this kind surpasses 100 million dollars and the time needed for construction is estimated as five years.


Two important centers of nuclear research are in operation in Brazil since several years: the Department of Physics of the Faculty of Philosophy of the Federal University of São Paulo (institute of Atomic Energy) and the Center of Physics Research associated with the Faculty of Philosophy of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The country’s teams of nuclear physicists were formed in these two centers.  

The São Paulo group was created in 1934 and the Rio group in 1949. With the expansion of the Department of Physics it was possible to install at São Paulo two atomic pieces of equipment: the “Betraton” reactor and the Van de Graaf generator. Rio de Janeiro had less financial resources and the issue received more attention only with the creation of the Research Center, in 1949. In 1956 the National Atomic Energy Commission was created and started to coordinate all activities of this kind in the national security sector.

Radioactive isotopes were produced.


In 1962 at the National Nuclear Energy Commission planned the installation of four nuclear electric plants. Two plants were to be built in the Center-South region: the first at Mombucaba, in Rio de Janeiro. This priority pilot plant would have a capacity of 300 thousand Kw and would cost 64 billion cruzeiros at the 1962 exchange rate. The other plant, of 300 to 500 kW, was to be located near São Paulo, “with its inauguration foreseen for 1975”. The Rio Grande do Sul plant was to have a capacity of 66 thousand kW, with an investment of 30 million dollars. The Nordeste plant, with com 50 kW, would serve the States of Maranhão, Piauí and Ceará.

It is estimated that Brazil will proceed with the development of its plan of conventional electric plants. It is not improbable that in a relatively short delay the country would build a plant of this kind. For the time being nuclear electric plants are of interest to the government, rather than a concrete reality.

It should be noted that although in the external field Brazil has adopted an aggressive and certainly rhetorical (in what regards nuclear energy), internally it is estimated that the necessary measures for attaining the pre-conditions that may make possible the use of the atom for development have not yet been taken.


It is believed that there are approximately 300 technicians in the differente branches of nuclear energy. Of this total, 500 are working abroad.

This number would not be sufficient for the current needs of Brazil, since the estimate amount would be at least 900 scientists. Available resources and places at universities are said to be clearly insufficient.

In the middle of last year Foreign Minister Juracy Magalhães, speaking at the opening of a course on nuclear energy for diplomats, given by the National Nuclear Energy Commission, said among other things that “this course is the first step by Itamaraty to form personnel qualified for dealing with nuclear energy questions and negotiate agreements of technical cooperation aimed at channeling to Brazil the maximum of assistance in nuclear science and technology, thus contributing for the preparation of Brazil to set in motion a realistic plan of construction and operation of nuclear electric plants”.    

Um general, the personnel is adequately qualified tor their tasks. The best known Brazilian scientists are Mario Schenberg, Cesar lattes, Marcelo Damy, Jacques Damon, Jaime Tiombo and Leite Lopes, among others.

RAW MATERIALS (Material and fissionable)

Uranium: The sure sources of uranium and the zirconium ores of the Poços de Caldas and Cascata region (State of Minas Gerais) and the gold bearing conglomerate of Jacobina. These deposits are not very abundant and treatment for obtaining uranium is not easy. Other known pegmatite uranium sources known do not ensure sure and plentiful supply. Uranium impregnated with sandstone has been found in the Tucano basin, in the State of Bahia, and in Buique, Pernambuco, in quantities not yet determined.

Uranium produced in a small scale is a by-product of the processing of monazite  in the sands of the Bahia and Espírito Santo shores. It has been considered “deficient” (material found in such small quantities that it cannot satisfy foreseeable consumption).

Thorium: Thorium ore reserves (monazite) are believed to be relatively abundant. The main deposits consist of monazite sands on the coast as well as those discovered at Araxá (State of Minas Gerais) and Tapiara, also in Minas Gerais and equally associated to pyrochlore. For the current estimated consumption, especially in the face of the relative knowledge about thorium as a source of energy, the available reserves have been considered “reassuring”. Also, for the reason stated above, the ore was qualified as “sufficient” that is, taking into account the known reserves it is capable of supplying the needs of the country in the long run and may even be exported.

This mineral occurs in Brazil in percentages of 0.6% of thorium oxyde per ton of monazite sands in the Brazilian coastline and adjoining regions, and in pegmatites of the hinterland and the region of lakes, as well as in diggings in the region of Linhares, in the State of Espírito Santo.

Thorium was discovered in Brazil in 1885, in the diamond gravels of Minas Gerais. Besides monazite sands, thorium is extracted in lesser concentrations from niobium or pyrochlore, of which tle largest Brazilian deposits are located in the Araxá region.

Monazite: Monazite sands occur on the Brazilian coastline in large quantities in the beaches of the State of Espirito Santo, among which Guarapari, Vitória, Anchieta and Inenha and toward the North those of Aracruz, on the mouth of the Doce River, continuing northward to Bahia at the municipalities of Prado, Caravelas, Alcobaça and Mucuri. In Camaruxotiba, in the municipality of Prado, monazite sands were extracted for the first time in Brazil. Also on the coastline of the State of Rio de Janeiro, in Guriri, Barra do Itabapoana, São José da Barra, Cabo Frio, Macaé, Angra dos Reis and Parati the extraction of monazite sands has been observed.

Ilmenite, used in the production of titanium white, citormite, used as refractory and opaque material and rutilo, employed in the preparation of electrodes for electric soldering, have been extracted as a byproduct from monazite sands in the State of Espirito Santo as a source of uranium and thorium.

These heavy sands have also been researched in the Paraíba do Sul River and Sapucaia (Rio de Janeiro). Other deposits of monazite may have been observed at Tibau, Cunhaú and Estrela, in the State of Rio Grande do Norte, in the neighborhood of Natal. At Florianópolis and São Rafael (Santa Catarina) monazite sands were estimated to be of high thorium content and 0,3% of uranium oxyde. Local reserves have been evaluated at 3.000 tons.

Other occurrences of monazite sands were observed at the mouth of the Mearim River and the Parnaíba delta in the State of Maranhão; in the mouth of the São Francisco River in Sergipe and Alagoas, in the municipality of Limoeiro de Anadia.       

A few years before World War monazite sands were extracted from Cumaruxotiba, in the municipality of Prado (Bahia), which were sent particularly to   Germany, where that country’s chemists produced an incandescent cover for gas lighting. Today the byproducts from thorium exploitation are ilmenite, zirconium and rutilo.

Lithium: The importance of this light metal has increased in view of progress in studies on the uses of nuclear energy.

Brazilian deposits of ambligonite (Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte and São Paulo), lepidonite and Spondumenium (Rio Grande do Norte) have been evaluated as sufficient.

Zirconium: Used as a refractory material. The reserves from the plateau of Poços de Caldas and the coast (in the monazite sands zones) are believed to be sufficient and would permit a moderate rhythm of exports.


From 1961 studies are said to have been in course in Brazil for the acquisition of its “own atomic bomb”. This directive, attributed to then president Quadros, involved in the studies started at that time Admiral Octalino Cunha (now retired),  president of the Space Research Commission and former president of the National Research Council, as well as physicist Marcelo Damy and other scientists specialized in nuclear physics.

In 1954 the former president of the National Nuclear Energy Commission, professor Luiz Cintra do Prado, stated to the press that “Brazil is already in a position to possess its own atomic bomb”. Cintra said that Brazil was in a more favorable position than China to produce the bomb, “particularly in what regards the raw material”. Among other considerations he said finally that “It is high time that the Ministry of War deems convenient for Brazil to start making its own bomb”. In other declarations to the press Engineer do Prado affirmed that “Brazil is prepared to produce the atomic bomb, but there is no order to that effect; if there is, it will be made without any difficulty”.

In July 1965 the president of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, Glenn T. Seeborg, said in a press interview, among other things, that Brazil was one of twelve other countries that could produce atomic bombs. These declarations, just as previous ones, did not change the pace of Brazil in that regard, that is, to possess a “national atomic bomb”. On the contrary, concerns about the use of energy through nuclear plants and the peaceful uses of atomic energy were intensified.

In 1967, in spite of the Brazilian adherence to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, the climate became tense again due to the apparent imposition of a group of military who wanted “Brazil to quickly acquire the atomic bomb” and who would support president Costa e Silva in that regard “in order to start immediately the exploration of nuclear energy and the manufacture of the bomb”.

This attitude, hasty but denied only lukewarmly, could be an offspring of the policy started by Quadros, also shared by former president Goulart through a group of “atomic military”.  

This concern is said to have been revived in present times, a reflection of which could be the signature of the treaty on the denuclearization of Latin America with reservations and the right to utilize atomic devices similar to the ones used for military purposes, the important cooperation agreements signed with Israel and France (the former possessing an important power reactor and the latter implementing an atomic policy unrestrained by international commitments), and the Brazilian position in Geneva with regard to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, according to which it bans nuclear weapons in its territory but reserves its right to conduct nuclear explosions with peaceful purposes.

 Recently, general Uriel da Costa Ribeiro, president of the National Nuclear Energy Commission said to the press that in a delay of the next six years his country would be in a position to manufacture the first atomic bomb or an explosion with peaceful purposes, without depending on the technical or scientific support of any other country”. He added that 7 kg of plutonium and 16 kg of enriched uranium are needed in order to carry out an atomic detonation, and said further that “we cannot enter the atomic era without a test and this will be discussed in Geneva. Brazil will have to manufacture an atomic bomb if it is threatened with nuclear war, in spite of our decision to remain outside an arms race and its high cost; no nation can trust its allies to provide it with an atomic bomb in that eventuality”. With reference to the establishment of a new State agency named ATOMOBRÁS, general Costa Ribeiro said he was against such a measure, since the functions and responsibilities of such an agency are already carried out by the organ he presides.

It was also informed publicly through the National Nuclear Energy Commission that there was no problem regarding the manufacture of an atomic bomb. Nuclear engineer Helcio Costa said that “Brazil is today as far away from nuclear explosions as Brazil was 20 years ago away from an automobile industry”. He emphasized that “to think of such a project is to ignore the Brazilian reality with its current economic infrastructure”.

To sum up: there are indications that Brazil intends to build an atomic bomb. While it possesses acceptable quantities of thorium, it however lacks uranium and has no plutonium. Lithium, of which Brazil has large deposits and whose importance in nuclear energy industry increases constantly and in military research in the modern world, would not be sufficient, however, due to the large demand. On the other hand there are currently not enough technical and economic resources.

From the above, it can be seen that Brazil would need large investments besides human resources and time. If the current panorama does not change dramatically, Brazil would not be able to have an atomic bomb in at least ten years.


In the internal field

The program of the Brazilian government to enter a concrete stage in the utilization of nuclear energy with the purpose of domestic and industrial organization is translated into a series of efforts not always accompanied by the necessary support for its implementation.

The current budget of National Atomic Energy Commission for carrying out a normal work program is about 18,2 million dollars, which, compared to the 200 million new cruzeiros that a power reactor would cost – the possible main objective of the demarches in France – demonstrate the week financial support that such technology would have at present in Brazil.

In a long term strategy, the Brazilian official position of fighting for the peaceful utilization of the atom instead of simply accepting the denuclearization of Latin America raises new prospects for underground and surface nuclear explosions.

It would not be a utopia to believe that Brazil intends to use atomic energy to connect the Amazon and the Plata basins by means of channels and tunnels, to open mines, produce land movements for the construction of electric plants and dams, build irrigation channels, etc.

The exploration of nuclear energy in arid zones such as the Nordeste would permit the production of electric energy and the use of sea water by desalination.

In general, the atomic policy to be implemented internally is the following:

  1. Scientific, technical and industrial preparation of the country to exploit new sources of energy when the current national energy resources approach full utilization.
  2. Establishment of nuclear energy, considered of vital importance in view of its future repercussions in areas of the country devoid of hydro potential.
  3. Updating the evaluation of the possibilities of nuclear energy in the country as a primary source of electric energy, since it has only been partially considered.
  4. Possibility of future utilization of the nuclear mineral reserves of the country for nuclear electric projects.
  5. Taking into account the most recent developments in nuclear technology in different countries that have contributed to reduce considerably the cost of power reactors, making them competitive with respect to conventional plants.
  6. Development of a “climate of trust” in the study of nuclear science and technology, in order to promote the formation of scientists and engineers to participate, in the long run, in a national atomic program.
  7. Development, in different regions of the country, of electrification plans, through government agencies and private companies, including those regarding the Center-South region carried out by the “Coordinating Committee of Energy Studies”, created by a resolution of April 25 1963 of the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
  8. Launching of an objective program in the field of nuclear energy, planned n such a way as not to become a burden for the country.
  9. Research, exploitation and development of national raw material. Able to satisfy the needs of the country in the different aspects of nuclear energy.
  10. Establishment in Brasília of laboratories and research centers open to students and scientists from Latin America, thus making that city a “nuclear capital”.
  11. Nuclear fuel policy.

In the international field:


On 26 October 1956 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was created with headquarters in Vienna and in whose administration and establishment Brazil participated.

In 1967 the European countries members of the Group of Six (Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, France, Holland, Italy and Luxembourg) created an atomic common market for peaceful purposes, the European Atomic Energy Commission – EURATOM – headquartered in Brussels. In 1960 Brazil concluded an agreement of technical cooperation in the nuclear field with this organization, without prejudice to bilateral agreements previously concluded with the United States.

Brazil is also a party to the Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission, an organ of the OAS (Organization of American States).

Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America

On 9 May of the current year, four months after the signature by other countries, Ambassador Sette Câmara signed in Mexico the treaty for the denuclearization of Latin America on behalf of Brazil, after several reservations and protracted negotiations.

Brazil abstained at the occasion of 16 February 1967, when its representatives claimed that due to the importance and significance of the event, the government of Marshall Castello Branco deemed convenient leave that decision to his successor, Marshall Costa e Silva.

The real cause for which Brazil did not support the treaty might have been the fact that it knew it could potentially become a nuclear weapon power in a very long delay; none of the other signatories of said treaty had that possibility.

The opinion that existed in some sectors of the Armed Forces at the time, especially the Army could also have been a factor. It could be summarized as follows:

  1. Brazil possesses raw materials and scientists in the appropriate quantities and qualifications to become a nuclear power, “given favorable economic conditions”.
  2. This would lift Brazil to the rank of world power and would consolidate its leadership in Latin America.
  3. Upon becoming a nuclear power, Brazil’s aims would be offensive and/or expansionist as well as to collaborate in the defense of the continent and/or of the western Christian world.
  4. Once Brazil became a nuclear power, the primary objective would be to utilize the atom for peaceful purposes with the special aim of overcoming the serious deficit of energy and mineral fuels.
  5. O sign the treaty would mean to be placed in the same level of the other signatories, with limited possibilities.
  6. Brazil, just like Argentina (which did not sign) might become a nuclear power, a design that would not exist if it signed the treaty.

         Brazil also imposed as a prior condition for its adherence, that the whole of Latin America should effectively be denuclearized, including Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and sought assurances from the members of the Atomic Club that exercise sovereignty over areas of Latin America, that nuclear tests be prohibited in those territories as well as sales of nuclear weapons in this continent. Meanwhile, an opinion about the positive nuclearization of the country, conducive to technological progress with peaceful purposes would take hold.

         On 22 May the signature of the treaty was officially announced. The president of Brazil said on the occasion of the Summit Conference of Punta del Este that he had authorized the ratification of the treaty. Foreign Minister Magalhães Pinto stated at the same occasion that “the delay in the signature of the document on the part of his country was due to lack of time to analyze it”. The Brazilian government reserved, nevertheless, its right to the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes because it was considered necessary for the development of the economy.

         Diplomatic circles believed that the decision would allow the government “to claim the right of use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes without such attitude being considered as an intention to become a part of the atomic club”.

         According to these circles, the Brazilian aspirations are contemplated in the program of action of the American presidents regarding educational, scientific and technological development.

        The Brazilian delegate to the Committee of 17 of the Conference on Disarmament reiterated in Geneva that his country considered inalienable, for its economic development needs, the benefits that might be derived from the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. The same observation was formulated by the president of Brazil when proposing to Latin America “a firm option to the nuclear era as the surest means to realize total development and preserve economic independence”.   

        The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons signed by Brazil in Mexico meant, according to Itamaraty, the affirmation of a Brazilian position in the field of nuclear research in order to uphold, in Geneva, “the right of the country to carry out its atomic research for peaceful purposes”.

The Treaty provides for the following obligations:

“1 – The Contracting Parties hereby undertake to use exclusively for peaceful purposes the nuclear material and facilities which are under their jurisdiction, and to prohibit and prevent in their respective territories:

  1. The testing, use, manufacture, production or acquisition by any means whatsoever of any nuclear weapons, by the Parties themselves, directly or indirectly, on behalf of anyone else or in any other way; and
  2. The receipt, storage, installation, deployment and any form of possession of any nuclear weapon, directly or indirectly, by the Parties themselves, by anyone on their behalf or in any other way.

        2 – The Contracting Parties also undertake to refrain from engaging in, encouraging or authorizing, directly or indirectly, or in any way participating in the testing, use, manufacture, production, possession or control of any nuclear weapon.”

         The territory considered for the prohibition, according to the treaty, shall include the territorial sea, the air space and any other space over which the State exercises sovereignty in accordance with its own legislation.

         The definition of a nuclear weapon is contained in Article 5, which establishes:

“For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear weapon is any device which is capable of releasing nuclear energy in an uncontrolled manner and which has a group of characteristics that are appropriate for use for warlike purposes. An instrument that may be used for the transport or propulsion of the device is not included in this definition if it is separable from the device and not an indivisible part thereof.”

        In order to verify compliance with the obligations of the treaty, the signatory States instituted a regional organization named “Organism for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America.

       This organism, to be known by the acronym OPANAL, shall have its headquarters in Mexico. Its main organs are a Conference, a Council and a Secretariat.

       Brazilian authorities, especially military, were mainly concerned with article 18, which states:

“1.       The Contracting Parties may carry out explosions of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes - including explosions which involve devices similar to those used in nuclear weapons - or collaborate with third parties for the same purpose, provided that they do so in accordance with the provisions of this article and the other articles of the Treaty, particularly articles 1 and 5.

2. Contracting Parties intending to carry out, or co-operate in the carrying out of such, an explosion shall notify the Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as far in advance as the circumstances require, of the date of the explosion and shall at the same time provide the following information:

    1. The nature of the nuclear device and the source from which it was obtained,
    2. The place and purpose of the nuclear explosion,
    3. The procedures which will be followed in order to comply with paragraph 3 of this article,
    4. The expected force of the device,
    5. The earliest possible information on any possible radioactive fall-out that may result from the explosion or explosions and the measures which will be taken to avoid danger to the population, flora & fauna, and territories of any other Party or Parties.
  • The General Secretary and the technical personnel designated by the Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency may observe all the preparations, including the explosion of the device, and shall have unrestricted access to all areas in the vicinity of the site of the explosion in order to ascertain whether the device and the procedures followed during the explosion are in conformity with the information supplied under paragraph 2 of the present article and the other provisions of this Treaty.
    1. The Contracting Parties may accept the collaboration of third parties for the purpose set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article, in accordance with paragraphs 2 and 3 thereof.”

           In spite of the safeguards contained in article 18, the signature of the treaty provoked several reactions in Brazil, among which that of Congressman Caruso da Rocha (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro) from Rio Grande do Sul, who said last 11 May in Brasilia, at a meeting of the House of Representatives, that he considers the treaty of Mexico as an abdication of Brazilian sovereignty that gratuitously forecloses nuclear prospects for the country with harm to external security”.

           The representative of Rio Grande do Sul believed that the treaty puts the Brazilian Armed Forces in an inferior position vis-à-vis those of the United States, Russia, France, Communist China and, in the near future, those of Sweden, Switzerland and India.   

    • Nuclear power is today one of the foundations of sovereignty. To renounce it means to abdicate one of the bases of independence and take away from the people the prospect of liberation – stressed Caruso da Rocha.


             The points of view of the Brazilian delegation regarding a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, presented at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva were basically the same set forth in Mexico with regard to the denuclearization treaty.

    In March 1996 the Brazilian representative at the Conference emphasized the need for the big powers to put an end to the armaments race and stressed that non-nuclear States must share in the benefits of the peaceful applications of the atom.

    But already in April of the current year the Brazilian position became clear in the speech delivered by the delegate to the Conference, A.F. Azeredo da Silveira, who expressed that Brazil shuns nuclear arms and that it has never intended nor intends to acquire such arms. “Article 1 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, approved by the Brazilian delegation to the IV Period of Sessions of COPREDAL, in Mexico City, expresses that determination, the above mentioned delegate added.

    According to what precedes, the intentions expressed by the Brazilian government are as follows:

    • nuclear materials and means under the jurisdiction of the Brazilian government shall be used for peaceful purposes, while it will prohibit and prevent in its territory:
    •     - the testing, use, manufacture, production and acquisition, by any means whatsoever, of nuclear weapons, directly or indirectly, on behalf of anyone or in any other manner;
    •     - receiving, stockpiling, installing, deploying and possessing any kind of nuclear weapon, directly or indirectly, on behalf of anyone or in any other manner;
    •     - to commit, promote or authorize, directly or indirectly, or in any other manner, participation in testing, use, manufacture, production, possession and control of any nuclear weapon.

         Azeredo da Silveira stated further that “the will of non-nuclear States to forgo the production and use of nuclear weapons must be in accordance with the willingness of the nuclear-weapon States to offer a counterpart. The treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, according to the principle contained in the memorandum by the eight non-aligned States, must be an integral part of the process of disarmament and a step toward general and complete disarmament. According to the Brazilian position the treaty must be conceived and designed as part of a program aimed at producing a first and important step toward general and complete disarmament under effective international control and at the same time to speed up the process of social and economic development of the less developed countries”.

        The Brazilian delegation suggested the following four points on which the program should be based:

    • to adopt concrete measures to stop the nuclear arms race, the reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals and the means of their production;
    • to stop all nuclear tests (both measures to be subject to appropriate international control);
    • to increase cooperation with non-nuclear States with a view to promoting the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes;
    • to channel to developing countries a part of the savings resulting from the    disarmament measures enunciated above.

          In the opinion of the Brazilian delegation the question of assurances is closely linked to the principle of the acceptable balance of mutual rights and obligations. The prospect that a future non-proliferation treaty may not be signed by all States makes a system of assurances impractical. The question of assurances has a dual aspect:

    • an obligation on the part of the nuclear powers party to the treaty not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear States;
    • an obligation on the part of nuclear powers to avoid or prevent nuclear attack or its threat against non-nuclear States.

          While Brazil has stressed the need for a system of assurances, it has not yet come to a definitive position on the two aspects described above.

          With regard to peaceful activities, it was stated that Brazil is totally and unequivocally committed to the prohibition of nuclear weapons in its territory. At the same time Brazil defends with no less firmness its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in particular for its economic development and social progress.

           From this basic stand stems the basic Brazilian position that nothing in the provisions of the treaty could prejudice the rights of the contracting parties to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, including peaceful nuclear explosions.

           “Nuclear energy and its technological and practical applications constitute an invaluable tool put at disposal of countries by science so that they may accelerate their efforts toward economic and social development. According to its degree of advancement in this field, no country should renounce the benefits that the use of nuclear energy could bring its people. No country has a right to decide to remain underdeveloped and neither can any country include such a decision in a commitment among nations that should be the reflection of legitimate national aspirations”, the Brazilian delegate said. He added that “There is some deliberate confusion regarding controlled and non-controlled nuclear activities, but arbitrary distinctions are nothing more than a bunch of words. According to certain arguments, sites of peaceful explosion activities should be understood as “controlled”, while peaceful explosions should be mentioned as “uncontrolled”. But it is not possible to know beforehand the exact yield and results of an explosion; otherwise, how could the nuclear powers continue to conduct their tests and their peaceful detonations under different program.

            “Brazil cannot accept as valid the argument that authorization to conduct nuclear explosions with peaceful purposes might constitute a loophole in any non-proliferation treaty, for the following reasons:

    • There is no difference, at present, between nuclear technology and peaceful nuclear technology;
    • The development of research in the field of nuclear energy inevitably includes somehow the use of explosions; to prevent access to explosions would mean to prevent the development of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy;
    • The prohibition of explosions would not be a way to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, since at the current level of development of the technology, nuclear weapons can be manufactured without resorting to explosions;
    • While it is possible, in the current state of technology, to produce nuclear weapons without resorting to explosions, it is perfectly viable, for any country having attained the necessary degree of capability, to manufacture a nuclear weapon without ever having to make an explosion. It is well known that none of the countries currently recognized as capable of exercising the nuclear option have conducted any explosion; a prohibition of explosions, therefore, would not change this situation in any way;
    • Moreover, after acquiring the capability to realize peaceful explosions, non-nuclear States would still have to take other measures in order to devote themselves to the production of nuclear weapons;
    • An explosive device is not, by itself, of military significance. In order to turn it into a weapon, many complementary strategic and logistic measures would have to be taken; the adoption of such measures by any country would not escape detection by an appropriate control system based on the technical and military knowledge of the most advanced countries in the world;
    • The argument that the cost of research and practical applications of explosions are prohibitively high for underdeveloped countries that traditionally lack economic resources for their development needs does not stand objective analysis. Speaking at an informal meeting of delegates to the ENDC, one of the most renowned authorities of the world on such issues said that once a country has acquired the necessary infrastructure costs inevitably decline. This applies to any conventional industrial infrastructure. Moreover, it is known that the cost per kiloton of explosive energy declines dramatically with the increase in the size of the device, that is, while each kiloton costs 35.000 dollars in a 10 kiloton device, the cost per kiloton in a 2.000 kt device is 300 dollars. To state that non-nuclear countries should renounce the possibility to develop, through national means, nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is roughly tantamount to equivalent to advocate that peace-loving countries abstain from producing conventional explosives for industrial purposes.  
    • To prohibit peaceful nuclear explosions for fear that explosive devices could be converted into arms, would be equivalent to a regression to the political philosophy of colonial times, when the metropolises prohibited all industrial activities that might lead to the production of firearms in the colonies. The inclusion of such concepts in the text of a treaty will lead to accepting a new kind of dependence that no sovereign nation is prepared to contemplate.
    • Nuclear-weapon States have been conducting extensive series of practical end research programs on nuclear explosions with a view to civil engineering, including in association with private companies. The interest of private capital in such operation demonstrates the possibility and practical advantages of said projects.
    • Peaceful nuclear explosions can provide solutions for many of the serious  problems faced by Latin-American and developing countries, mostly in the economic field; that is, construction of canals, connection of hydrographic basins, recovery of oil deposits, liberation of natural gas, etc.     

    The above considerations about peaceful uses of nuclear energy provided the basis for Brazilian position that the prohibition of such activities, including peaceful nuclear explosions, “is not the appropriate way to ensure that there will be no loopholes in the treaty”.

    Regarding control and according to the position adopted by the Brazilian delegation, “Brazil favors the institution of a universal and effective system of controls, as the only possible means to reconcile the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons with the inalienable rights of countries to utilize nuclear energy for their development needs.       

    “Brazil holds, in accordance with science, that it I possible to produce a nuclear weapon outside the established canons, without any need to carry out test explosions. Thus, the mere prohibition of explosions cannot be considered as a sure mans to curb proliferation. Moreover, if a country carries out nuclear activities, including explosions, intended for peaceful purposes, it is not ipso facto, in a position to possess nuclear weapons. The transformation of an explosive device designed for peaceful purposes into a weapon requires not only a number of technical changes but also the establishment of military facilities and equipment together with production systems, a costly and complex process that could not escape detection under an effective control system”.be google

    “The intention with which an explosive device is produced is also an important element to determine the difference between such a device and a nuclear weapon. A peaceful device is an important part of the project of economic development and by its very nature cannot be hidden from publicity and public knowledge, because any project of this kind corresponds to the legitimate aspirations of the peoples it benefits. On the other hand, secrecy is an intrinsic element of nuclear activities aimed at military objectives, but since a nuclear explosive has no military significance by itself, the need for complementary facilities such as mentioned before will make detection of any effort to build nuclear weapons comparatively simple if nuclear activities in general are appropriately controlled”.

    “It is clear, therefore, that if at the present stage of nuclear science with peaceful objectives its technique is indistinguishable from nuclear technique for military purposes, by the same token a peaceful nuclear explosive device is clearly different from a nuclear weapon, and many distinctive elements, objectively ascertainable, make it impossible to confuse one with the other.”

    In what regards the articles on entry into force, review and withdrawal Brazil had not put forward at this point in the Conference any proposal or suggestion. The Brazilian delegate deemed convenient to establish two kinds of links between these issues and some aspects related to other articles of the treaty.   

    “Therefore”, Azeredo da Silveira went on, “the review and withdrawal clauses might be in some way linked to the articles that spell out the obligations of the nuclear powers – as suggested by the Swedish delegation to the ENDC – by setting up a system flexible enough to permit periodical reviews to determine compliance with those obligations to satisfy the other contracting parties.” It is also important, he added, “to keep in mind the relationship that exists among these clauses and the principle according to which the non-proliferation treaty should be ”followed or accompanied by” other disarmament measures. In this connection, the Brazilian delegation supports the thesis that the duration of the treaty should be limited in order to allow for its review according to the results of its application and the progress obtained in the implementation of its program”.

    He concluded by saying: “The second kind of link is the one that can be established between the article on the entry into force of the instrument and the security of non-nuclear States in certain areas of the world. Although Brazil has no special security problems vis-à-vis its neighbors –  even more after the approval of the Latin American treaty – we are not insensitive to the real concern of countries whose security preoccupations are based on important geographic an strategic considerations  peculiar to their respective geopolitical regions”.


    Brazil has signed important agreements on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, among which the ones with the United States, France and Israel must be mentioned.

    Broadly, these agreements deal with the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes with the aim of accelerating the social, economic and scientific development of the signatories through the use of nuclear energy in the fields of agriculture, industry, medicine and basic science.

    Such cooperation is to be achieved through the exchange of scientific data and knowledge, the granting of scholarships to qualified personnel and students or any other kind of assistance to increase the contribution of States to the development of nuclear energy, including the installation of reactors, provision of enriched uranium fuels and the research, exploitation and prospection of national raw materials usable for these ends.

    Other agreements have been concluded or are under negotiation between Brazil and Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden. But it is symptomatic that Brazil has sought agreements especially with France, a country noted by its international stance in this matter, Israel, which possesses a powerful reactor, and the United States, a leader in this area.

    France has recently contributed personnel, equipment and scholarships; the United States provided broad support at the start of the Brazilian nuclear effort with fuels, experimental reactors etc., a support that continued through their respective international organizations.

    The agreement with Israel opens new perspectives for Brazil and taken together these achievements correspond to the Brazilian ambition to be the next nation  and the fist in Latin America in which nuclear energy is an important part of the economy, and the first atomic power in this part of the continent.


    1) It is evident that Brazil wishes to have “its own” atomic bomb. An important number of military officers are believed to partake of this opinion, headed by the minister of Mines and Energy, general Costa Cavalcanti, linked to a “hard line” military faction.

    2) The current doubts about the existence of uranium, the need to count on astronomical sums in dollars and the need for a capable technology should not be insurmountable obstacles to arrive at the desired objective.

    A country having a versatile policy such as Brazil can at any time devote large amounts of money to the achievement of its high aims.

    3) Brasilia is a visible demonstration of the above. In the midst of an economic crises and increasing inflation, it was born in the jungle under the direction of the personal policy of former president Kubitschek at a time when the country required (and still requires) decisive action in the fields of agriculture, public works, transportation, ports, communications, housing, etc. This huge investment could have solved some of these essential problems. It was an endeavor with enormous internal and international impact and an open demonstration of what Brazil was able to do even in times of acute economic instability.

    4) Nevertheless, it is said that Brazil is making unusual noises about this question, especially by intending to overcome Argentina if it considers that it is in an inferior position with respect to our country and to push it towards signing the Latin American denuclearization treaty.

    5) By signing the denuclearization treaty, Brazil stressed that the signatory countries have the right to carry out, by their own means or in association with third parties, nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes, including those that presuppose devices similar to military ones and to utilize nuclear technology without limitation, in the peaceful field.

    6) This position was also taken at the Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva, where at all times and in every way Brazil highlighted its possibilities as am “atomic nation, and where it clearly stated that it shall not renounce its right to manufacture nuclear explosives “for peaceful purposes” and will not accept restrictions in this regard.

    7) The signature of cooperation agreements with some countries and the start of negotiations with others seems a reaffirmation of its intentions of leadership in Latin America on this matter.

    8) On 19 May of the current year the president of the National Nuclear Energy Commission, general Uriel da Costa Ribeiro, announced a program of establishment of nuclear reactors for the production of atomic energy.

    The program is aimed at responding to the growing demand for electricity in the country since the “exhaustion of economically exploitable hydro reserves is not too far away, besides the need to complement the thermoelectric system already in existence.         

    9) This whole ensemble (atomic bomb, treaties, international conferences, nuclear electric plants, etc.), might show that in fat Brazil is the Latin American country that presents the greatest prospects to promote the development of civilian and military nuclear applications, not only due to its industrial capacity but also to the political implications of such leadership in the community of Latin American nations as well as in the world in general. In such circumstances, the question remains whether, if what was explained above is true, our country would be able to overcome what is a Brazilian unknown, especially when Brazilian scientists have expressed that Brazil can and should have the atomic bomb, and recently a group of politicians and military participate in the view and want “a country that can quickly acquire the atomic bomb”.

    10) It was considered “very convenient” that Brazil becomes a member of the Atomic Club but in order to do that it would be necessary to count on an “atomic support” which it does not have at present. This could be achieved through the creation of the necessary climate that “it can be done” with the policy of independence in the nuclear field and be definitively eliminated from the list of non-atomic countries.

    Today the Atomic Club is comprised of fifteen members; could Brazil become the sixteenth? Reality points to the negative, but until when will it remain a candidate for entry? Its desired primacy in America would be the key and the men who have taken the political command of the nation are undoubtedly marching toward this objective.

    Buenos Aires, 6 July 1967

    (Signed) Carlos A. Gasparini

                    Commander – Chief, subsection “1”

    (Stamp of the Service of Naval Intelligence – Subsection 1 – Department (illegible)




    It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. No worries, just click here to download the PDF file.

    Click here to view the PDF file in a new window.

    PDFs cannot be printed inline in the page. To print a PDF, you must first download the file and open it in a PDF viewer.