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Digital Archive International History Declassified

April 02, 1974


This document was made possible with support from the Leon Levy Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)

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    Confidential report identifying major trends regarding uranium supply. The document assesses US capacity to supply nuclear fuel after 1980, and describes European initiatives to manage the fuel cycle. The document underscores the convenience of defining guidelines, which “might ensure Brazilian leadership in Latin America” (p.105); then, it outlines the difficulties inherent to the establishment of a bilateral agreement with the US (taking into account the Brazilian position vis-à-vis the NPT), and suggests Europe (most notably West Germany) as a potential partner. The document recommends the establishment of a confidential working group formed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Mines and Energy in order to set up a strategy that would allow for the establishment of a nuclear cooperation agreement with the partner country, at the time still undefined.
    "Memorandum, Foreign Minister Azeredo da Silveira, Information for the President of Brazil, 'Uranium Enrichment'," April 02, 1974, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, CPDOC Archives, PNB ad 1973.10.05 pp. 100-108. Obtained and translated by Fundação Getúlio Vargas.
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Subject: Uranium enrichment.

1.          Uranium existing in natural state (U3O8) is composed of U-238(00,3%) and U-235 (0,7%). U-235 is the only fissionable material found in a natural state and constitutes the departure point for any nuclear fuel cycle. U-233 and PU-239 derive, respectively, from TH-232 and U-238. Power reactors for energy production utilize natural uranium (U3O8) or low enriched uranium (up to 3% or 4%). Uranium enrichment consists essentially of increasing the percentage of U-235 in U3O8. In low temperature reactors for the production of fissionable material for military purposes, highly enriched uranium to the level of 90% is used as fuel.   

2.           More that 90% of power reactors for civilian purposes, either installed or  projected, use low enriched uranium. A few countries, like Canada, India and more recently Argentina, have opted mainly for reactors based on natural uranium. The chief motivation of these countries seems to have been the greater possibility of supply and independence from the virtual monopoly of the superpowers in the field of uranium enrichment, beside a relatively lower cost of the initial fixed investment.

3.          Uranium enrichment, a highly sophisticated technology, is kept under great secrecy by the few countries that control it. The best known processes are: gaseous diffusion (USA, USSR, UK and France), centrifuge (FRG, Netherlands, UK and USA), and  “nozzle (FRG). Only the former is under effective production.

4.        The American capability for uranium enrichment (three gaseous diffusion plants initially built for purely military purposes) is at the moment of 17.000.000 kg of UTS a year, but actual production is of around 8.000.000 UTS, enough to meet the consumption of the United States, Europe and Japan.

5.       Within five years, starting in 1980, the demand for low enriched uranium for power reactors should increase to a total of about 40.000.000 UTS, of which 25.000.000 in the United States and 12.000. in Western Europe. Plutonium reprocessing may reduce that demand by about 10%.

6.     There are plans to expand the American capabilities to an amount sufficient to meet domestic needs. With regard to the satisfaction of the needs of the rest of the world, however, the situation is not very clear.

7.          For economic and increasingly political reasons, Western European countries have been seeking to possess autonomous capacity for uranium enrichment. With this objective, in 1970 the Federal Republic of Germany, England and the Netherlands decided to join efforts in order to develop a new technology – untracentrifuges – a process economically more adapted to the European peculiarities due to the low consumption of electric energy (10 times lower than gaseous diffusion) and the possibility of construction of small dimension plants (5 times smaller than the minimum needed for gaseous diffusion).

8.          The tripartite project envisages the operation of the enrichment plants in the Netherlands (Almelo) and in the United Kingdom (Capenhurst). A company in the Federal Republic of Germany would produce the centrifuges. By virtue of the Paris Agreement that admitted the FRG to NATO, Bonn has renounced the possibility of enriching uranium its territory according to the nuclear disarmament commitments then entered into.

9.         The initial projected production of the Anglo-German-Dutch tripartite project was of 350.00 UTS/year but more recently 3.000.000 UTS/year have been mentioned. A company incorporated in England under the name of URENCO will be entrusted with commercialization.

10.       Starting in 1971, when it gave up the line of natural uranium reactors and opted for enriched uranium, France tried to interest its European partners to permit  the construction of a large European project of uranium enrichment by gaseous diffusion, a technology developed on a small scale by France on its own, for military purposes, at Pierrelatte.

11.        Thus, in February 1972, an entity named EURODIF, composed of France, Belgium, Italy, Spain Sweden and the three URENCO countries (Federal Republic of Germany, England and the Netherlands) was created in Paris. The EURODIF society was transformed at the end of 1970 into a company to ensure the construction of a European gaseous diffusion plant and the commercialization of its production. However, allegedly not having accepted the installation of the projected 9.000.000 kg/UTS/year plant in French territory, the three members of URENCO did not participate In this new stage. Sweden also left EURODIF a short while ago.

12.         In parallel with these developments, under the inspiration and control of the 3 member countries of URENCO, an association for the study and evaluation of any matter related to uranium enrichment by centrifugation (“Association for Centrifuge Enrichment”) was organized in London in June 1973, with the participation of all members of EURODIF plus Australia and Japan.

13.        The European collaboration panorama widened in July 1971, with the offer by the USA, for the first time, in the margins of the IV Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy in Geneva, to grant access to the American gaseous diffusion technology to Western European countries, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, under conditions to be discussed in Washington at a meeting that took place in mid-November of the same year.

14.           In the Washington meeting, in which Brazil participated as observer, the United States showed unwillingness to join in the construction of uranium enrichment plants in other countries, but preferred to provide, subject to “royalties,” gaseous diffusion know-how and equipment to multinational projects, whose participating countries would give to the USA full assurances of exclusive utilization for peaceful purposes , secrecy of information and acceptance of the IAEA safeguards system.

15.          Such multinational projects—the USA believes could be five, with a capacity of 2.000.000 UTS/year—should not affect the commitments already entered into with American plants. Nothing concrete seems to have resulted from that Washington meeting, and the USA have been often accused of attempting only, with their proposal,  to create obstacles to the European solutions under consideration.

16.   By refusing to sign in 1968 the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons because its provisions, besides being discriminatory, might create obstacles to the full peaceful utilization of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, Brazil decided at the same time to intensify its nuclear program and therefore make use of the rights which it did not want to forgo.

17.           In this connection, studies for the first power reactor were started and later contracts were drawn for their construction. The Angra dos Reis reactor will produce 600MW, is of the light water kind with enriched uranium and will start operation in 1976. For its supply a contract will be made with the United States, the country where the equipment comes from, for the supply of enriched uranium, by intergovernmental agreement. The Brazilian Government will undertake to submit the utilization of the reactor to IAEA safeguards.

18.          A second power reactor whose type, size and location are not yet defined, is under study.

19.           The question to be considered is to decide whether Brazil, in order to take forward its nuclear program, should try to develop a national industry in the fuel cycle itself, or not. Political, economic and even national security considerations seem to indicate that Brazil should seek to sophisticate its nuclear program so as to include not only uranium enrichment but also the reprocessing of fissionable and fertile materials resulting from the burning of U-238 in power reactors.

20.          This possibilily has been under consideration in Brazil since 1969. The first step was taken in the context of the scientific cooperation Agreement with the FRG. Following the visit of the Minister of External Relations of that country to Brazil in 1971, diplomatic and technical contacts were established with a view to the installation, in the San Francisco River valley, of a uranium enrichment plant for 1.000.000 UTS. The project would eventually include the participation of France, whose gaseous diffusion technology would be used in the first stage. The FRG was willing to consider the ultracentrifuge option by the process developed at Jülich and even recourse to American gaseous diffusion know how in a multinational project. The German Government agreed also to study with us the industrial scale development of the “nozzle” process, conceived in Karlsruhe.   

21.         In parallel with the conversations with the FRG, Brazilian nuclear authorities have maintained contact with the United States on the possibility of locating in Brazil a multinational uranium enrichment plant with American gaseous diffusion know how. In this connection, in January 1972 CNEN asked the Ministry of Mines and Energy to request from the Presidency of the Republic authorization to take forward an initial feasibility study.

22.          In May 1973 CNNE expressed to the Ministry of External Relations its interest in a program of cooperation with the FRG that would include the resumption of contacts on enrichment based on ultracentrifuges. Accordingly, CNEN negotiated in April 1973 its association with ACE in London. This would depend only, to become effective, on an endorsement by the Brazilian Government, already requested by CNEN from the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

23.         The oil crisis brought an impulse to the nuclear energy issue, by demonstrating the vulnerability of industrialized nations regarding both the assurance of supply and of price.

24.          President Nixon’s proposal for joint action by developed countries is not confined to the field of oil, but includes reference to cooperation in the nuclar field, particularly with regard to uranium enriching technologies. It is said, by the way, that the United States might have perfected an ultracentrifuge process many times superior to the European one.

25.           Circumstances seem to indicate for Brazil the convenience of setting guidelines in this field that would ensure for us a position of leadership in Latin America. Taking into account that since the current year Argentina is operating a natural uranium reactor of 300MW that will furnish, annually, 150 kg of PU-239, and that that country already possesses a chemical reprocessing plant to treat that material, Brazil should not postpone a decision on the question of the second reactor and of the uranium enrichment plant, without prejudice to the intensification of research into uranium ore itself.

26.           On the question of uranium enrichment, considering the political-diplomatic difficulties associated with a bilateral agreement with the United States  due to the fact that we are not signatories to the NPT and the legal restrictions of the US Atomic Energy Commission and the compensation that would be required from us in the field of oil, the most favorable path could be that of contacts with Europe, using as the main partner the FRG, a country whose political-military constraints make it more open to cooperation.

27.           Just recently the Minister of Economy of the FRG, who was the special envoy to the inauguration of the President of the Republic, took the initiative of proposing to Brazilian authorities (the Minister of Planning and the President of CNEN) the idea of cooperation in this field. The German Ambassador, in an interview with the Head of the Economic Department of the Ministry of External Relations, detailed the offer, mentioning both the ultracentrifuge and the “nozzle” processes.

28.            The Brazilian Government should prepare for these contacts through the adoption of the following measures:

                (1)  to grant CNEN governmental endorsement to participate in ACE, in London, through our Embassy in that capital;

                  (2) to send a technical mission to the FRG to gather information that would permit the evaluation of the economic worth and the technical feasibility both of the ultracentrifuge (Jülich) and the “nozzle” (Karlsruhe)  processes;

                  (3) to establish diplomatic and technical contact with France with a view to the possibility of utilization of French know how in gaseous diffusion in a project in Brazil, which could be exclusively Brazilian, Brazilian-German or French-Brazilian-German;

                  (4) appointment of a Confidential Working Group  ministry of Mines and Energy/[illegible]/Ministry of External /Relations/National Security Council in order to define a strategy for obtaining external technical cooperation for the Brazilian uranium enrichment program, in the light of the program that may to be defined.

(Signed)  Antonio F. Azeredo da Silveira

                Minister of State of External Relations   


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