Brazil has begun the process of identifying new sites for new nuclear power plants. The first step was the recent signing of a cooperation agreement between the federal Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Centre for Electric Energy Research (acronymed to Cepel, in Portuguese).
Brazil has one of the lowest carbon electricity generation systems in the world. This is the result of its very heavy dependence on hydroelectricity, which stood at 80% for many years. But by 2018 this figure had declined to 65%, entirely as a result of changes in rainfall patterns. Brazil thus needs to diversify its generation capacity while retaining its low level of carbon emissions.
“An increase in the participation of nuclear energy in the Brazilian energy mix is important to reduce the impacts of water crises on electricity generation,” noted Cepel in a statement. Cepel is a subsidiary of federal government-owned electricity utility Eletrobras, which owns about 40% of the country’s generating capacity.
Currently, Brazil obtains some 3% of its electricity from nuclear power. This comes from a single nuclear power plant (NPP), located on the coast at Angra dos Reis in Rio de Janeiro state. This NPP currently has two operating reactors, the 640 MWe Angra 1 and the 1 350 MWe Angra 2. Angra 1 started operating in 1982 and Angra 2 in 2000.
The project to build a third unit, the 1 245 MWe Angra 3, was stalled in 2015 by allegations of bribery, resulting in prolonged investigations by Federal Police and prosecutors. One key consequence was the annulment of a number of contracts, originally obtained through corruption. At that point, 47% of the civil engineering work for the unit had been completed. A new business model for Angra 3 was approved in early 2020, only for the Covid-19 pandemic to hit and cause yet further delays. It is now hoped that construction of this third reactor will be completed by 2027 at the latest.
Brazil’s National Energy Plan to 2050 specifies that the country will significantly increase its nuclear generation capacity over the next three decades. “[Nuclear energy] was, is and will be essential and fundamental for the energy transition,” affirmed Federal Mines and Energy Minister Bento Costa Lima at last year’s COP26 climate summit. “[W]e will add 10 GW in the next 30 years.”
In 2009 and 2013, Eletrobras provisionally considered sites for two new NPP complexes, one each in the northeast and southeast of the country. “Cooperation with Cepel should facilitate a more efficient choice of the country’s new nuclear sites, considering projections of energy demand, socio-environmental needs and the attraction of new investment to enable the construction of the plants,” said the Mines and Energy Ministry.