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April 05, 1978


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    This telegram made by the Brazilian Embassy in Buenos Aires, verifies U.S. pressure on Argentina’s nuclear program, especially through Canada, with whom Argentina had a strategic partnership in the nuclear field. The telegram goes into depth on factors that underlie Argentina's decision not to sign the NPT, and its efforts to import the materials necessary for its nuclear program.
    "Telegram from the Brazilian Embassy in Buenos Aires to the Foreign Ministry, 'External Policy. Argentina. Nuclear non-proliferation. Issue no. 132.'," April 05, 1978, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Argentine Foreign Ministry Archives
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Ofício no. 339

Date: 4/5/1978



To: Secretariat of State for External Relations

External Policy. Argentina.

Nuclear non-proliferation.

Issue no. 132.


  1.  Argentina is not a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (TNP) because it considers that on the one hand, it is inclined to limit the arms race, on the other, it consolidates in the hands of a few States the decision about who has or who does not have the right to benefit from the extraordinary possibilities of economic and social development that the peaceful uses of nuclear energy would ensure. Not having participated in the Conference of the 18 Nation Disarmament Committee, which met in Geneva and presented to the General Assembly in 1968 a finished document whose change was politically impossible, Argentina deemed necessary to put forth a general reservation about that procedure.
  2. It has thus pointed out, as an initial principle, that it was encouraging that the governments were given the opportunity to expound their opinions on the general question of non-proliferation and on the treaty in particular, in the hope that in a constructive and cooperative spirit, the concerns and aspirations of those that had not participated in the deliberations at Geneva would be taken into consideration. Besides, it stressed that an exaggerated importance should not be attributed to the argument that at that moment it had been possible to achieve the convergence of opinions of the two largest nuclear powers, something that might not be repeated in the future, in order to ensure the approval of the treaty.
  3. Two aspects should be distinguished regarding the Argentine position on non-proliferation in general and on the Treaty itself. Argentina is not opposed to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and until 1968 supported firmly all initiatives on this matter at the United Nations General Assembly. Moreover, Argentina co-sponsored the proposals that were included in the Antarctic Treaty of 1/12/59, which prohibited the carrying out of nuclear tests in the Antarctic and the deposit of radioactive waste in that region. It signed, although it has not yet ratified, the Treaty of Moscow on nuclear tests and the Treaty of Tlatelolco on the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America. However, this support of the idea of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is not unconditional and indiscriminate, but rather subordinated, for Argentina, to the recognition of two fundamental values that must remain protected in the instruments that regulate non-proliferation.
  4. The first is the protection of the security of each of the members of the international community, since today, with the existence of nuclear and non-nuclear countries, mere non-proliferation freezes the existing situation. Consequently, Argentina considers that it is necessary that effective guarantees be given to the States that do not possess nuclear weapons by those who, by virtue of their greater military power, have a primary responsibility in the nuclear field.
  5. The second fundamental value that Argentina understands must be protected in order to achieve non-proliferation is the technological progress, particularly of the developing countries, for whom it is the key to economic and social development. “Argentina” – said the delegate of this country at the First Committee of the General Assembly in 1968, “will gratefully receive all assistance that may be given to it by the Great Powers in order to develop its nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but cannot accept to be subordinated to a constant dependence in this field, the more so when the country already possesses the basic nuclear techniques needed for our economic development”.
  6. On the basis of these general premises, Argentina reserved its position on the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and presented a number of objections to the text. First, it was considered that what was then still a draft of the Treaty limited the faculty of the non-nuclear States in the whole line of research with regard to peaceful explosions; Argentina favored the inclusion of a formula similar to that of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, especially its Article 18, which it considered more convenient to the interests of developing countries. Within this general idea, it criticized the formula adopted in Article 5 because it considered that the nuclear Parties to the Treaty would not accept in fact any concrete obligation since their commitment was restricted to mere cooperation “through the appropriate international procedures” (not defined in the Treaty nor in the General Assembly debate) and to “the potential benefits of any peaceful applications of nuclear explosions”.
  7. For the Argentine delegation the vague formulation of the commitments assumed by the nuclear States contrasted with the clear and concrete obligations imposed on the non-nuclear countries in Articles 1 and 2. With regard to Article 4, it was considered appropriate to mention the inalienable right to the national development, although that was a mere declaration.
  8. Another issue of concern for Argentina was the exchange of nuclear equipment and materials, such as envisaged in the draft Treaty, since it did not consider that the question was clearly defined. On the other hand, Argentina considered Article 6 insufficient and described it as “a mere declaration of good intentions”, stressing the need for concrete formulas regarding the obligations of the nuclear powers. For all these reasons Argentina did not sign the Treaty and abstained in the vote of Resolution 2178 (XXII) of the General Assembly which commended it.
  9. Argentina understands that the current intention is to control all nuclear peaceful activity by means of ever more strict safeguards and other procedures and to make the construction of uranium reprocessing end enrichment plants impossible, and finally to prevent those that did not sign the NPT from the possibility of manufacturing nuclear devices for peaceful purposes. The review of the Conference of the NPT, held in Geneva, in May 1975, was not able to overcome certain substantive aspects which led many countries not to adhere to the Treaty. The conclusions of the Conference were considered meager by Argentina, especially with regard to the most controversial points of the NPT.
  10. Without doubt the peaceful utilization of nuclear energy has an fundamental place in Argentina’s economic development, and it should be recalled that this country set up its National Nuclear Energy Commission on May 31, 1950 and by Decree no. 22.198, of December 19, 1950, transformed it into a dependent agency from the Presidency of the nation and redefined its functions and purposes. On the other hand, the first nuclear reactor to operate in Latin America was RA-1, built in Argentina and in operation since 1958 for research and production of radioisotopes. Today, the production of radioisotopes is primarily done at RA-3, designed and built by CNEA and at work in the Atomic Center in Ezeiza since 1967. Since March 20, 1974, Argentina consumes electric energy produced by the Atucha Nuclear Plant, located on the right bank of the Paraná river, a little over 100 km northwest of Buenos Aires.
  11. In 1975 CNEA presented a nuclear plan for the decade 1975/1985, based on the principle that natural uranium was the ideal solution for the Argentine nuclear development, because the country had already assimilated a large part of that technology, considerably less expensive than that of enriched uranium. In particular the CNEA considered the CANDU reactors, to be acquired through agreement with the Canadian government, as perfectly appropriate to Argentine needs.
  12. The nuclear plan 1975/85 foresaw the construction of four nuclear plants (besides the one at Embalse, in Rio Tercero, Province of Cordoba, already under construction) each with the power of 600Mw. The uranium deposits known at the time were perfectly adequate for the needs of the operation, since the Sierra Pintada mine, in San Rafael, in the Province of Mendoza, by itself, would be capable of producing about 15 thousand tons a year.
  13.  After the Movement of March 24, 1976 the direction that was being followed was revised and it was proposed to replace contracts “keys in hand (llave en manos) by modalities that involved growing participation of the national industry in all stages of the construction and installation of nuclear plants. In this way, the national share, which was of about 40/45% at Atucha I, grew to about 50% at Embalse (under construction) and should be of 60% at the third projected plant (Atucha II), in the course of the nuclear program, until reaching the goal of 90%.
  14.  That decision presupposes also an attempt to supply the plants with nuclear materials of national origin in accordance with the original goal of absolute independence that was behind the choice of natural uranium as raw material. At the moment there is still a dependence of fuel elements from Germany, processed from Argentine uranium, as well as totally imported heavy water.
  15. The weakest point of the Argentine nuclear program is its dependence on the supply of heavy water, needed as the moderator for its natural uranium plants. It is estimated that in 2000, Argentina will need about 12 thousand tons of heavy water, which at current international costs, would mean an expenditure of 1.7 billion dollars. At present the Argentine development of an autonomous structure for the production of nuclear energy hits this snag, since Canada is barring its access to this specific technology. For this reason the government already started to take some measures in order to try to overcome this dependence. In September 1977, the Executive Power authorized CNEA to purchase land adjoining the Atucha Plant in order to build a heavy water test plant. This plant will serve as the technological base for a future plant (of industrial scale) to be built in Neuquén and which should produce 250 tons of heavy water to supply the Argentine nuclear plants. Finally, among the goals of CNEA for 1978 there is a project for heavy water production that foresees during this year the materialization of 65% of the basic engineering portion of the pilot plant and a public bidding for the construction of the main equipment.  
  16.  According to studies by CNEA the nuclear sector should produce about 15 thousand Mw by the year 2000. Such capacity would come from Atucha I, Embalse, Atucha II and two additional plants, to be put in place by 1990, as well as the construction of other nuclear plants with a total power of 12.000 Mw in the following decade. After the contract in force with Canada was renegotiated in June of 1976, the Embalse plant should start operations in 1981. Atucha II, with a foreseen capacity of 600 Mw, could be built next to Atucha I for reasons of convenience. The other two plants to be built, also with 600 Mw of capacity each, were already the subject of feasibility studies for their installation, in principle, in Mendoza and Bahia Blanca.
  17.  Uranium reserves should provide 24 thousand tons of concentrate, enough to supply six plants for 30 years. Geological studies indicate, moreover, the existence of additional reserves of 125 thousand tons, which could supply 40 plants for the same time and/or ensure exportable surplus.
  18.  Thus, the program to install nuclear plants under the main justification of the energy needs of the country, seeks to evolve toward contemplating technological advancement in line with the country’s development effort. The signature of an important technology transfer convention with Canada, in 1973, which aimed at obtaining a certain amount and quality of engineering and technology, did not attain its final objectives due to Canadian pressures for the establishment of increasingly stricter safeguards systems.
  19. At the end of 1974, the Canadian government even provoked a complete stop of the conversations on the total implementation of the agreement and on future technical assistance in the expectation that Argentina would sign the NPT. In spite of this circumstance, Canada decided to supply the equipment for the Embalse plant (Rio Tercero). On the other hand, it is worth remembering that in 1976 the Argentine government agreed to renegotiate the agreement with the Canadian-Italian consortium, formed by the “Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd” and the “Italimpianti”, suppliers of equipment from Nuclear Plant of Embalse, due to the losses they were having as a consequence of the Argentine inflationary process. The history of the nuclear agreement with Canada was processed at office No. 116 — Theme No. 123.
  20. It can be seen that the strong pressure of the big supplying  (especially the United States) powers to control the peaceful use of atomic energy, allegedly with the objective of preventing the diversion of fissionable materials  to military purposes, was also exerted indirectly on Argentina, via Canada.  Since in practice Argentina needs to import nuclear technology in order to take its development forward, it is possible to suppose that at a given moment it will be necessary to weigh the benefits and the harm that may result from the signature of the NPT since external pressures may curb or stop its nuclear program.

21. President Jorge Rafael Videla stated in Washington, in September 1977, that “Argentina has always offered to those countries that provided it with technological cooperation sufficient assurances about the peaceful use of nuclear energy”. However, such guarantees may not be considered sufficient in the future. Therefore, despite Argentina’s refusal to sign the NPT, because it considers that the treaty violates its sovereignty and establishes a distinction (harmful for Argentina) between countries that have and do not have a right to develop nuclear explosives, albeit for peaceful purposes, external pressures combined with its present technological dependence may force the Argentine government to accept ever more strict safeguards imposed by its suppliers or by the nuclear powers.

(signed) Claudio Garcia de Souza



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