(Adds more comments from minister)
By Lisandra Paraguassu
WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - Brazil and the United States could work together to build small nuclear reactors, Brazil’s mines and energy minister told Reuters on Friday, adding that the South American nation is also ready to open uranium mining to foreigners.
Brazil is preparing legislation that would clear the way for both private and foreign investment in prospecting and mining for uranium in the country, Minister Bento Albuquerque said in an interview. There is a draft of the legislation, but a final version must be negotiated with Congress, he said.
“We have to resolve internally the issue of uranium exploration that today is a monopoly of the state and is in the hands of Nuclear Industries of Brazil,” Albuquerque said, referring to the state firm running the country’s uranium mines.
“What we have to do is to make our legislation more flexible so that there can be private uranium exploration,” he said.
Albuquerque is in Washington ahead of President Jair Bolsonaro’s first official visit to the United States since he took office on Jan. 1.
The trip next week by right-wing Bolsonaro, who modeled his foreign policy and political style on U.S. President Donald Trump, is expected to bring closer economic, political and military ties between the two countries.
Albuquerque also expanded on earlier comments that nuclear projects such as the Angra 3 plant would be opened to private foreign investment, saying that plant as well as small nuclear reactors could also attract American interest.
Construction of Angra 3 was halted in 2015.
The two presidents are expected to sign a declaration that will include a provision to create a bilateral forum to discuss energy investment opportunities in the areas of oil, gas and nuclear power, Albuquerque said.
The forum would hold its first meeting in April, he said.
The United States has expressed interest in participating in the next rounds of auctions of oil blocs in the pre-salt area off the coast of Brazil, particularly in one region called the “transfer of rights” area, Albuquerque said.
The pre-salt area, where billions of barrels of oil and natural gas are trapped beneath a layer of salt under the ocean floor, is one of the world’s largest oil finds of recent decades.
The U.S. is also interested in investing in Brazil’s natural gas sector that is being opened to private investment, he said. The country’s gas market is currently dominated by Petroleo Brasileiro SA and state distribution companies. (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; writing by Jake Spring; editing by David Gregorio and Phil Berlowitz)