Fri, Nov 26, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Brazil to begin uranium enrichment program soon


Brazil will start enriching uranium next month after getting the green light from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the government announced Wednesday following months of negotiations.

"Permission was granted to start operations," Science and Technology Minister Eduardo Campos told a news conference in Brasilia.

In a first stage that will last six to eight months, the Resende enrichment facility in southeastern Brazil will be running tests.

"That phase will start in December," the minister said.

The announcement followed an inspection of the facility, which an IAEA team conducted on Nov. 16-18 after the government dropped its initial objections to such a visit.

Campos said the inspection showed the complex of the Industrias Nucleares de Brasil state-owned company complied with IAEA conditions.

"This means that from the point of view of international safeguards, the INB plant fulfils conditions for the start of operations with the introduction of UF6 uranium gas," the government said in a statement.

Uranium hexafluoride, or UF6, is the chemical form of uranium that is used in the enrichment process.

Campos said that after the initial test stage, the plant will produce enriched uranium for Brazil's Angra I and II nuclear power plants.

The announcement came at a time when the Vienna-based IAEA has been pressing for states such as Iran and North Korea to allow inspections of their nuclear facilities.

The IAEA is particularly concerned that enriched uranium should not be diverted for clandestine development of nuclear weapons.

Uranium enrichment produces fuel for civilian reactors as well as atomic bombs.

Brazil, which has one of the world's largest uranium reserves, had cited trade secrets in initially denying IAEA inspectors access to the facility in February and March.

But Campos said the inspection did not compromise those secrets.

The country has "managed to safeguard its national technology and this has not caused any difficulty whatsoever in the fulfillment of the agency's mission," the minister said.

Brazil is party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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