BRASILIA, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Brazil aims to complete its third nuclear plant by 2026 with the help of private investment, Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque said on Wednesday, in a bid to jump-start the decades-old, corruption-tainted project.
The minister had previously told a domestic newspaper he was in favor of resuming construction of the Angra 3 nuclear plant, which has been halted since 2015, and that the estimated 15 billion reais ($3.95 billion) cost of completing the project would be money well spent.
While nuclear technology should remain in the hands of the government, Albuquerque told reporters, the ministry is working with the government’s public-private infrastructure partnerships secretariat to come up with a model for allowing private enterprises to participate in the construction.
“If there is economic viability, if we succeed in attracting investors for finishing the construction of Angra 3, we will complete Angra 3 within this target of entering into operation by 2026,” he said in the press briefing.
Construction was halted on the project in 2015 amid allegations that companies paid bribes to secure contracts, which lead to several arrests and spurred an investigation by public prosecutors.
“It’s just an issue of getting the necessary investment to complete the construction,” Albuquerque said.
Albuquerque, an admiral who previously lead the Navy’s nuclear and technology development program, has proposed kick-starting the country’s nuclear energy efforts as well as efforts to explore for uranium.
Five companies have expressed interest in investing in Angra 3 after the country’s energy council, CNPE, nearly doubled the reference tariff rate to 480 reais ($126) per megawatt hour, Reive Barros, the ministry’s energy planning secretary, said in the briefing.
Albuquerque has previously said any private investment in the project, overseen by a unit of state utility Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras SA, would be limited to 49 percent stake.
Albuquerque also said on Wednesday the government would strive to carry out an auction in 2019 of extra oil in an offshore area that is tied up in a dispute with state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
A dispute dates to 2010, when the Brazilian government granted Petrobras the right to extract 5 billion barrels of oil and gas in the offshore Santos Basin.
However, the volume of oil in the area is now estimated to be much larger, and the cash-strapped government cannot sell the excess reserves until it reaches agreement with Petrobras. ($1 = 3.8014 reais) (Reporting by Jake Spring)