(October 10, 2003) The Argentinean nuclear lobby is trying to complete the Atucha-2 reactor, after a 20 year interruption, taking advantage of the energy system crisis and partly of the benefits of the devaluation of the Argentinean Peso.
(594.5546) WISE Argentina / WISE Amsterdam - The Atucha-2 project was put out to international tender in 1980. The German company Siemens-KWU won the contract one year later. The original total cost of the project was estimated at US$ 1.9 billion. The 50% of the supplies were to be imported and the rest would be provided by Argentina itself. Siemens, responsible for the imported supplies, guaranteed itself the funding from credits given by consortiums of German banks.
The 692 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) had to begin commercial operation in 1987 with a 40-year lifetime. But it was never finished as work was chronically interrupted during the 1980s. With 81% complete, the project was indefinitely shelved.
At the end of 1990 without beginning operation, a cost update for estimated total construction costs reached the sum of US$ 3.1 billion. Most recent estimates are about US$ 4.0 billion. Keeping the installations inactive, including the heavy water plant in Arroyito, costs more than US$ 25 million per year.
In 1999, a government working group studied the possibilities of completing Atucha-2, but realization was abruptly delayed by Argentina's financial crisis in 2001. At that time, completion work was estimated to cost US$ 800 million, which was mainly to be funded by the national government. In addition, another shocking estimate was made on the definite cancellation of around US$ 375 million, which was intended to convince the authorities of that time of the feasibility of completion.
As was reported on 25 September 2003 in Nucleonics Week, a lobby made up of CNEA (Atomic Energy National Commission) and NESA (Nucleoeléctrica Argentina S.A., operator of NPPs Atucha-1 and Embalse) would be updating the earlier proposal to complete the reactor.
Taking into account the devaluation of the Argentinean Peso (the amount of US dollars needed is declining as the pesos is decreasing in value), the proposed update for the project completion now would be "only" US$ 400 million, according to the present CNEA/NESA plans.
Nevertheless, keeping this analysis would be to fall into CNEA's trap, i.e., accepting that the included costs of this budget are the real ones. As it usually happens in this type of projects, the environment is never considered, and many costs of development, waste management, etc. are not mentioned or they are concealed. Some of them are within the CNEA budget (about 91 million pesos this year) though most costs are directly ignored since experience shows that they are no considered in the electricity price.
The lobby hopes to have a decision by the end of the year and aims to have finished most of the construction work within four years. By that time, presidential elections will be held which could result in another set back for the project, if not sufficiently completed. So, completion of the reactor which has been mothballed since two decades could possibly be conducted "in a hurry", which won't contribute to safety, of course.
An alarm is set in the current national situation, since the nuclear lobby can heavily influence government circles, mainly due to the current energy situation given the devaluation that caused a major "delay" in electricity charges. This imbalance after the 2001 crisis, together with other factors, made the liberalization system and privatizations of energy sectors - implemented from 1992 - reaching crisis.
If the economic recession wouldn't have occurred last years, the electricity supply would be already in crisis, and it is in fact in danger of collapse if the industry revival does not continue to develop. This and a lack of inversions by private utilities would be an argument for CNEA to press the government.
Maybe the main argument in these circumstances to stop the efforts by the nuclear lobby is the fact that in a country where the 57% of the population are poor and the 27% are destitute, it would be at least immoral to deviate resources to a project that is clearly dangerous and uncertain.
Source and contact: WISE Argentina at firstname.lastname@example.org