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Does Brazil have the Bomb?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 19, 1994) WISE-Amsterdam recently received a book, "Brash a Bomba Oculta: o programa nuclear brasileiro" (Brazil: The Hidden Bomb), by Tania Malheiros. Unfortunately, the book is available only in Portuguese, but there are certainly points worth mentioning for our English-speaking audience.

(424.4201) WISE Amsterdam - A journalist for 15 years, Tania Malheiros has been writing about nuclear issues since 1986. Her new book exposes the Brazilian secret military program aimed at obtaining know-how and skills for the production of nuclear weapons.

Malheiros gives an extensive overview of the wheeling and dealing within the emerging Brazilian nuclear industry, constantly referring to the people and institutions involved. The book begins with the history of Brazilian participation in the nuclear era, which started with the supply of monozidic sands for the Manhattan Project in 1943. During the 1950's, when the power of nuclear deterrence was established in the cold war order, the Kubitchek government tried to escape US dominance in this area by seeking alternatives in Europe, particularly with French technology, to implement the first nuclear power plant in Brazil. This project was eventually aborted.

Instead, in 1963, the National Commission on Nuclear Energy (CNEN, created eight years earlier) started working on the construction of a Brazilian nuclear reactor. However, the military, which took power in 1964, wanted to consolidate the "Brazilian miracle" and decided to speed the access to peaceful nuclear technology by importing it, at all costs. After many misdealings with potential sellers -- mainly concerning the supply of nuclear fuel for the reactors -- an agreement was finally signed with Germany in the 1970's, and in 1981 the first Brazilian nuclear power plant, Angra I (nicknamed "firefly" by its public utility users, because of its regular shutdowns), was inaugurated.

Malheiros then summarizes the controversies around the safety and the real need of such power plants in an underdeveloped country with vast hydrological resources. But the red line throughout the book (and also its best merit) is formed by a well documented description of events around the so-called "delta" bank accounts destined to finance the military's secret nuclear program. First uncovered by Tania Malheiros herself for the daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo in 1987, the revelation of the existence of such accounts triggered an official investigation by the Brazilian Congress. Results from these investigations, together with a series of interviews by the author, make it plausible to assume that the Brazilian govern-inept -- which never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- has already attained the technology for the nuclear fuel cycle and the possibility to explode a nuclear artefact.

Malheiros points to circumstantial evidence in the discovery in 1987 of a huge nuclear testing site in the Amazon Valley, as well as developments at the naval nuclear facilities in Aramar, Sao Paulo, claiming that Brazil already had a level of uranium enrichment of 93%. This implies that Brazil should be able to produce fuel for nuclear submarines, in addition to a rudimentary atomic bomb, once it is wanted. Malheiros, however, is consciously careful with any hard statements in that direction, because, after all, the military nuclear, program is still considered one of Brazil's most protected national secrets.

Source: "Brasil a Bomba Oculta : o programa nuclear brasileiro", by Tania Malheiros, Gryphus, Rio de Janeiro. 164 pp.