Brazil nuclear leader's arrest may stymie its atomic ambitions

jueves 30 de julio de 2015 12:08 GYT

By Jeb Blount

RIO DE JANEIRO, July 29 (Reuters) - The arrest of the longtime head of Brazil's nuclear energy utility on corruption charges could disrupt a plan to revive Brazilian nuclear ambitions whose roots go back to its atomic-bomb program in the 1980s.

Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, a retired admiral, was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly taking 4.5 million reais ($1.35 million) in bribes from engineering firms working on the long-delayed Angra 3 nuclear power plant.

While its constitution commits Brazil to the peaceful use of atomic power, Pinheiro, 76, has for three decades been a central player in plans to finish Angra 3, build eight additional reactors and even a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

"The arrest is a tragedy for the industry," said Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, a Brazilian nuclear physicist and Eletrobras' chief executive from 2003 to 2005.

"The industry was already in crisis, but now the corruption concerns are bound to delay Angra 3 further and cause costs to rise even more."

Pinheiro, an atomic engineer, was tasked by Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1980s to find a way to build a nuclear reactor small enough for a home-built submarine and the means to process enough enriched uranium to fuel it.

His work eventually led to a secretive, but UN-sanctioned, uranium-enrichment plant outside of Rio de Janeiro. The plant, which reprocesses fuel from Angra 1 and 2, does much the same thing as Iran's controversial military-civilian facilities.

In 1990, five years after the end of military rule, Brazil publicly renounced its bomb-making plans with the implosion of tunnels in the Amazon that had been dug to test thermonuclear devices.   Continuación...