(December 24, 2004) In November 2004 the Brazilian and German governments agreed to substitute their nuclear co-operation accord with a broader umbrella agreement on sustainable energy co-operation. Long discussions between the German government and parliament had taken place before the German government finally requested, by diplomatic note to the Brazilian government, the conversion of the nuclear accord. Just days before the deadline was due to expire, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry accepted the proposal but nevertheless, the Brazilian government declared that it would not abandon nuclear energy.
(620.5656) Urgewald - The bilateral nuclear agreement is a relic of Brazilian military dictatorship and the "atomic euphoria" in the 1970s. It was inspired by the military leadership’s desire to construct its own nuclear weapons. The bilateral agreement itself was intended to facilitate the construction of eight nuclear power plants and further nuclear facilities. To date, only one plant has been built as a result of this co-operation mostly because of the major economic crisis affecting the Brazilian government since the early 1980s but additionally due to the escalation of construction costs. As a result, plans to expand nuclear energy were mothballed during the 80s and 90s.
The energy crisis in 2001, caused by insufficient rainfall and the lack of water in Brazilian dams, has changed the situation. Until now, up to 80% of Brazilian energy is produced by (large) hydropower facilities. Therefore, the old plans for expanded use of nuclear energy have once again been revived in order to reduce the dependency on hydropower.
Regarding the nuclear accord, the German nuclear industry has been applying pressure on the government to support the new nuclear euphoria in Brazil. In 2002, German public bank KfW showed interest, by "letter of intent", in financing the construction of the Brazilian nuclear power plant, Angra 3. In reaction to this proposal, the German Foreign Ministry stated in a letter to German NGOs that the government’s official position did not support the construction of Angra 3. In particular, it argued against the provision of public credits and investment guarantees by German companies.
In another reaction to this dispute, the coalition treaty between Greens and Social-Democrats in 2002 makes an explicit reference to nuclear treaties mentioning that "nuclear treaties should be reviewed in order to check if they should be cancelled or renegotiated" (coalition treaty 2002: 38).
The bilateral nuclear accord between Germany and Brazil was the first test case for this governmental promise made in 1998.
Every five years, either or both parties can terminate the German-Brazilian nuclear agreement. Already in 1994, parliamentarians from the German Social-Democratic party, then still in opposition, struggled to end the nuclear agreement, however, the then right wing government did not accept this proposal. Five years later, despite the Social-Democrats and Greens assuming power, the new government still decided to continue the nuclear agreement.
In 2004, environmentalists in both countries lobbied the German government once again to definitively stop this bilateral nuclear co-operation. German parliamentarians also applied pressure on their government by pushing forward a resolution on this issue. Only a few days before the deadline for the cancellation expired, the Foreign Ministry gave the Brazilian government verbal notice by asking for the substitution of the nuclear co-operation stating that the bilateral nuclear accord is "not any longer up to date" and that they are interested in converting the nuclear agreement by an overarching energy deal focusing on renewables, energy efficiency, reduction of energy consumption and emissions etc.
In response, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry considers the proposal of substituting the nuclear accord as “opportune” as it “has already achieved its most important objectives”. It also considers the Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed between the Environmental Ministries of both countries at the Renewables Conference in Bonn in June 2004, as a "solid base for future negotiations on a broader sustainable energy co-operation".
During his visit to Brazil in November, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer affirmed that the bilateral nuclear accord was incompatible with Germany's drive to get rid of atomic power by 2025. Fischer told reporters that “in Germany we have a (nuclear power) phasing out policy and this is moving into our international relations” (Reuters, 19 November 2004). Also, German parliamentarians from the Greens and the Social Democrats said that the exchange of these diplomatic correspondences symbolises the end of the nuclear co-operation between both countries. The environmental spokesman for the Social-Democrats in the national parliament mentioned that the government’s diplomatic note should be seen as an important signal to the Brazilian government in an attempt to convince them that a future without nuclear power is the better option for Brazil as well as for other developing countries.
Unfortunately, the fact that Brazil’s government is ready to terminate the nuclear co-operation with Germany does not indicate willingness to halt its nuclear program. Brazil has already found new allies in its efforts to continue its nuclear ambitions and, therefore, no longer needs German co-operation. Although the construction of Angra 3, which the Brazilian government is expected to decide on soon, still depends on equipment and services from Franco-German Framatome (formerly Siemens). It is now most likely that the financing and public guarantee for this work will come from France, even though the work will be done at the Siemens facility in Germany.
Despite several official statements from both governments confirming the end of the nuclear co-operation, Germany’s nuclear industry still continues its efforts to have nuclear energy included in the scope of the negotiations and new accord between Germany and Brazil. Therefore, the question of whether or not nuclear co-operation could still be an option for future energy co-operation between the two countries will be decided definitively during negotiations due to start in early 2005. The German Foreign and Environmental Ministries, and also parliamentarians of the Greens and the Social Democrats, must ensure that nuclear energy is definitively excluded from the new energy accord. These German political leaders should not accept any compromise in this regard for this would erode their political credibility and damage their reputation.
Sources and contact: Barbara Happe, urgewald - Büro Berlin, Im Grünen Haus, Prenzlauer Allee 230, D-10405 Berlin, Germany.
Tel.: +49 (0)30 4433 9168/9
Mobile: +49 (0)172 6814474
Fax: +49 (0)30 4433 9133