Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Venezuela’s Nuclear Plans

Hugo-Chavez2 File it under “Another Country Considers Nuclear” – but with an asterisk this time:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Monday that his government is carrying out initial studies into starting a nuclear energy program.

Chavez brought up the issue during a news conference, saying the South American country needs an atomic energy program.

And this isn’t necessarily diabolical. For all that Chavez is viewed as a bad actor, Venezuela certainly needs more electricity and while almost totally dependent on renewable energy sources (62% hydro, 38% thermal), these are tapped – like Venezuela, Brazil has also turned to nuclear energy because it cannot further grow its hydro capacity.

Venezuela is largely an urban nation, with 86% of its 26 million people clustered into cities. So a nuclear energy plant could bolster its capacity rapidly – and it needs it; Chavez declared a state of emergency earlier this year after a drought hampered its hydro capabilities. As a result of the drought, it’s band-aid time:

Chavez gave further details of specific infrastructure investments, such as upgrades of various thermoelectric plants around the country by 40-80 megawatts, the modernization of a plant in Carabobo state, incorporating 320 megawatts by the end of March, and adding 175 megawatts to Guayana’s supply. Venezuela’s heavy industries, based in Guayana, have suffered large production decreases due to the lack of energy.

I haven’t seen a response to Chavez’s announcement from its neighbors or the U.S., but this editorial from the Augusta (S.C.) Herald provides a foretaste:

Let's see -- an oil-rich country ruled by a deranged despot is moving forward with a nuclear program that it insists is for solely peaceful purposes -- even though it harbors enough enmity against the rest of the world to presumably construct a nuclear weapon of war within striking distance of its enemies.

The use of nuclear energy as a stalking horse for nuclear weaponry rather underestimates how difficult that would be – uranium and its enrichment is very tightly controlled – but that’s what the country can expect the response to be.


Still, there’s this:

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 75, is said to have claimed that he could help Venezuela achieve a nuclear bomb within 10 years.

That’s not good. However, it’s tempered with this:

The US government said that, in reality, Venezuela had not been seeking US secrets, nor had anyone working for it.

Under Mr Mascheroni's alleged plan, Venezuela would have used a secret, underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium, and an open reactor above ground to create nuclear energy.

You can read the rest of the story to see what this is about, but this caught my eye:

After being contacted by the undercover FBI agent, Mr Mascheroni was said to have provided a 132-page document entitled "A Deterrence Program for Venezuela", which allegedly contained "restricted data" on nuclear weapons development.

If that’s real, it suggests the U.S. finds Venezuelan intentions suspect or at least has plans to deter suspect intentions should they develop. So Venezuela and nuclear may well lead to fishy eyes cast its way.

Regardless, I’ve read that Russia and France are snooping around, looking for deals, so stay tuned.

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