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Brazil: 'good nuclear citizen' or nuclear threat?

In October 2004, SciDev.Net linked to an article in Science, in which Liz Palmer and Gary Milhollin reflected on Brazil's reluctance to allow atomic energy inspectors access to its uranium enrichment plant (see Brazilian nuclear negotiations could set precedent).

Although Brazil claimed the only slightly enriched uranium would be used to fuel its power reactors, Palmer and Milhollin pointed out that the country would have the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon without the rest of the world realising.

In a letter to Science this week, Robert Abdenur, the Brazilian ambassador to the United States objects to these allegations.

Brazil, he says, "has an impeccable relationship with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]" and the IAEA has already visited the facilities seven times. He denies Palmer and Milhollin's assertion that Brazil was secretly trying to build an atomic bomb in the 1980s, adding that the country has for decades "been a committed champion of the twin causes of disarmament and non-proliferation and is party to all major treaties and instruments".

In response, Palmer and Milhollin call Abdenur "gravely misinformed", adding that in the early 1990s the Brazilian government itself admitted its atomic bomb project. More recently, Brazil built a screen around its centrifuges, preventing their inspection by the IAEA, on the pretext of protecting trade secrets.

This, say Palmer and Milhollin, would enable Brazil  to stockpile low-enriched uranium, which would give it the capability — irrespective of intention — of making nuclear weapons. They add that since their original publication last year, Brazil has agreed to allow the IAEA full access to the centrifuges in the enrichment centre.

Link to the full letters in Science