Nuclear expert Celio Bermann on nuclear power in Brazil, the interests of the military and German guarantees without which the NPP Angra 3 wouldn’t be built.
F: the German government will stick to the guarantee for Angra even after the nuclear phase out. Does that go together, Mr. Bermann?
C: Paradoxically yes. We’ve got a strange situation: in Germany there is an industry that can build NPP, but there is no market. The domestic market is thus replaced by other countries…
F:… for example Brazil.
C: For this you have to know the historical context: 1975, during the military government, Brazil signed a treaty for nuclear cooperation. It foresees that with German aid eight new reactors should be build. One of them is Angra 3.
F: The treaty of over 35 years old.
C: Contsruction of Angra 3 started in 1984. Two years later the construction was stopped because of lack of money. For 25 years the project was stopped. During this time the material was stored in the port of Rotterdam. We don’t know about the quality of the material right now. That is a big risk.
F: Why does the Brazilian government wants to stick to the project?
C: The military wants a new reactor, in order to gain influence on international level. It doesn’t say so openly. there is yet a program with the goal to have a submarine with nuclear reactor. But if the country has a nuclear program without using nuclear power commercially this has a strange taste. Therefore it is important for the government to use nuclear power as well civilian. The world should get the impression that this is about electricity production. Actually it is a theatre piece.
F: Didn’t the government learn from the Fukushima catastrophy?
C: No, they denied and played down the problems. The minister of science for example said three days after the accident that it was just an incident and no accident. Later they argued that we don’t have that kind of earth quakes and Tsunamis in Brazil. Only pro-nuclear lobbyists were quoted in the media. They explained what happened and how Brazil would act on accidents. Critics, from NGOs or academia were not given any space in the news.
F: In the region around Angra 3 there may well be earthquakes. Is that a problem?
C: Earth quakes are less a problem than earth slides. angra 3 is surrounded by mountains. When there is strong rain, the slides may get dangerous. The geographic situation makes evacuation in case of catastrophy difficult. There is a plan for the surroundings for a distance of less than 15 km. IAEO now demands to enlarge the radius to 30 km. this would include the town Angra with 200.000 inhabitants. A plan for this doesn’t exist. at least it was never tested.
F: Would it be possible to evacuate 200.000 people in time?
C: No, I don’t think so. there is only one street going to other towns. And this street can’t be broadened since it is located just between mountains and sea.
F: If the evacuation plan is lacking, does that have any consequences?
C: According to the media such a plan should be a precondition for the final guarantee. But it is unclear whether this concerns a 15 or 30 km zone of evacuation.
F: What happens if Germany doesn’t give the guarantee?
C: That would be the end of Angra3. the Brazilian government would probably still try to realise the project. But it will be difficult to find other investors. As matter of fact they did start the building, around 10 percent are ready yet and only the German industry has the equipment that is needed to finish the plant.
F: what will be the costs?
C: They speak of 7,5 bio. US $. If you break that down on the costs for installed capacity that is nearly double the price than the average of other plants. Obviously the German government lacks this information. With these costs it will be difficult to sell the electricity and pay back the credit. Which might lead to the fact that German taxpayers have to cover the costs.
F: If the German government would not give the guarantee – would that be bad for the German-Brazilian relationship?
C: I think the Brazilian government accepts that Germany wants to phase out nuclear power, especially after Fukushima.
F: But this is about Brazilian energy policy. Is it ok if it is set by Germany?
C: It is not correct to say: Brazil decided to go for nuclear power and now Germany wants to interfere. Look at the Brazlian nuclear policy which is based on the treaty of 1975. Today a majority of Brazilans is against nuclear power. Shortly after Fukushima a poll was done: 54% are against using nuclear power for electricity production. The problem is that our energy policy is done very autocratically, no public hearings, no debate.
F: Can Germany after the guarantee in principle still get out of the support?
C: I think if the renewables sector in Germany asks for guarantees the government can easily say: we have to react to different requests and now we decided for a different guarantee. Only with support of of German industry the governemnt can go into a different direction. For industry it would be better and more profitable if guarantees were given for renewables. This would secure German jobs and German technology would get on the markets of emerging countries.
F: How about renewable energies in Brazil? Are there enough to replace nuclear power?
C: New reactors aren’t needed. Today nuclear is 1,8% of the Brazilian energy mix. That is not much. We have other energy sources like hydropower, which represents more than 70% of electricity. Apart wind has an enormous potential: estimates say 143.000 MW, right now we have only 1000 MW. Electricity from biomass could be enlarged as well. But we lack the technology to burn bagasse more efficiently. Here the German industry could help. We need cooperation – but not to finish a nuclear power plant.