You are here

Argentine reactors unsafe

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 21, 1990) According to The Buenos Aires Herald, an Argentine English-language daily, "Argentina's nuclear reactors pose a threat to society. There have been just too many problems with cooling systems."

(344.3439) WISE Amsterdam - "Major problems in a cooling system prevent operators from ridding the reactor of its residual heat. As a result the temperature inside can rise rapidly. This is what could cause an explosion, releasing tons of water and steam from the cooling circuit. If a pressure mounts inside the reactor, filters would be blown off like champagne corks. The gas would escape in a deadly radioactive cloud and, given the right conditions, drift towards Buenos Aires."

The article was written by journalist Beatriz V. Goyoaga after reviewing of a document released by Greenpeace Argentina in November. The document lists the dangers posed by Argentina's reactors and suggests that Atucha I, a 357 MW PHWR (Pressurized Heavy-Water-Moderated and Cooled Reactor), be closed. Lack of maintenance, inadequate repairs, lack of an alternative cooling system and inadequate emergency plans are major problems listed in the document. Greenpeace also suggests that Atucha II, a 745 MW PHWR, at present under construction, should be adapted to generate electricity using another fuel source -- gas for example.

Greenpeace states that during the first year of operation, Atucha I suffered from a number of problems. In 1974 it was out of service 35 percent of the time due to shutdowns. Most of the failures were because of problems with the cooling system. In 1975 operating errors shut down the reactor twice. In 1983 and 1985 a number of other operating incidents led to a decline, which, said Goyoaga, "led to its present dilapidated state." In 1987, in one of two major incidents, a spill of 50 tons of radioactive heavy water later led to the closure of the plant for 150 days. This in turn led to the 11 August 1988 accident which closed the plant for more than a year and a half. Cause of the accident took five months to diagnose and led to arguments between the Comission Nacional de Energia Atomica (CNEA) over repairs needed at the plant.

Siemens, the West German corporation responsible for building Atucha I, allegedly considered opening the reactor for a thorough cleaning to ensure that dangerous bits of metal and debris that threaten to damage fuel rod channels in the reactor heating system be removed. The company also suggested the construction of a secondary cooling system. Its proposal was rejected by CNEA on the grounds of the high cost. The result: CNEA decided to repair the reactor itself over the next year, despite the fact that experts within plant management said an accident of this type was not described in the operation manual that the builders, Kraftwerk Union, also of West Germany, left with them. (See WISE News Communique 318.2188)

Experts say the repairs were incomplete. The cleaning process did not reach the interior of the reactor and metal residue was left inside. No alternative cooling system was built and the whole repair operation was done in such a manner as to lead Eckhard Gadtke of Kraftwork Union to publicly state that "the conditions under which Atucha was restarted make it possible to imagine a technically feasible mini-Chernobyl happening there." According to Goyoaga, he allegedly added, "in Europe, with current security measures, a reactor in such conditions would not be allowed to start operation."

Siemens asked the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to invite Argentina to request an international inspection of the plant to evaluate repairs and the plant's present condition. The report, already in its preliminary stages, points out, too, that repairs were partial and their completion is urgent. Nevertheless, CNEA has not guaranteed that there will be any further repair work done.


  • The Buenos Aires Herald (Argentina), 10 Nov. 1990, p.6
  • WISE Amsterdam

Contact: UPAN, Caixa Postal 189, 93001 Sao Leopoldo, RS, Brazil, tel: +55-512-927933, fax: +55-512-926617
Red Nacional de Accion Ecologista, Tucuman 1711 3/C, 1050 Capital Federal Argentina
Consego Provincial de Organizaciones Ambientalistas no Gubernamentales, Casa de la Cultura, Villa Elisa, 5850 Rio Tercero, Cordoba, Argentina.