Tiny Bolivia, the poorest nation in South America, packs a punch -- or so says President Evo Morales, who welcomed the new year with an announcement: Bolivia is ready to pursue nuclear energy. Morales assured that the country has the necessary raw materials for the quest to be successful, and said nuclear power is a “right for every Bolivian.”
“Nuclear energy is not a privilege for developed countries, and others have to be deprived of it,” he said, adding that Bolivia is not a warlike country and nuclear energy would be used for “peaceful ends.”
Morales did make a point to say that it will take some time to develop the necessary technology, and that countries like France and Argentina were helping out. “It is time to take Bolivia off the last row in Latin American development,” he said.
However, Morales’ enthusiasm for this technology notwithstanding, the history of Latin America with nuclear energy is not very promising. Three countries in the region -- Mexico, Brazil and Argentina -- use nuclear power, all under the Treaty of Tlateloco of 1967, which forbids nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear energy for war. Others, like Chile and Cuba, have expressed interest in developing nuclear energy.
But no Latin American countries have been very successful with it, for various reasons.
Brazil: Less Nuclear, More Wind
Brazil was building a nuclear plant, its third, when the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant made headlines and, once again, made everyone question the safety of nuclear energy.
That plant was put on hold, as was a project to build four more by 2030. As of September 2013, those plans were stopped with no restarting date in sight. “Things got put on standby,” Mauricio Tolmasquim, chief of state-owned EPE or Energy Research Company, told Reuters. “[The plants] are not a priority for us right now.”
Brazil’s nuclear power -- the country has two working plants in Rio de Janeiro state -- accounts for 1 percent of electricity generation. That's about the same as wind power's share, which might just be the way the government goes in terms of the future of energy for Brazil. “This is wind power’s moment,” said Tolmasquim.
Cuba: Nuclear Dreams Halted
Cuba’s dreams of nuclear energy were halted, as most things in Cuba are, for political reasons. Construction of the country's first nuclear plant began in 1976, as a joint project between Cuba and the USSR.
The first two nuclear reactors were built in 1983 in Juraqua, with a target operational date of 1993. However, the collapse of the USSR stopped the flow of crucial Soviet funds; 300 Russian technicians were sent home; and Cuba was forced to abandon the project.
The plant sat in limbo until 2000, when Russian President Vladimir Putin, on an official visit in Cuba, offered then-President Fidel Castro a belated $800 million. But Castro declined, for reasons unknown.
The abandoned plant sits on the Caribbean coast, and access is not permitted to foreigners.
Mexico: Gas Flies High
Much like Brazil, Mexico decided to stop the construction of 10 new nuclear plants in favor of natural gas in 2011, when several deposits of the fuel were discovered.
The government decided to boost investment in the new fuel as well as in oil reserves managed by state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), which will open to private investment in March. The country was considering nuclear power as part of plans to boost generating capacity by almost 75 percent to 86 gigawatts within 15 years, from about 50 gigawatts now. It now prefers gas for cost reasons, according to then Energy Minister Jordy Herrera.
“Until we find a model to make renewable energy more profitable, gas is more convenient,” he said.
Mexico still has working nuclear reactors, that produce around 4 percent of its energy.