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Brazil intends to commission a uranium enrichment plant later this year. A member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, Brazil says the uranium will be used to fuel its power reactors. Earlier this year, however, the government barred International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, whose role it is to ensure the uranium is used only for peaceful purposes, from visiting the plant.

In this article in Science, Liz Palmer and Gary Milhollin speculate on what Brazil's apparent reticence could mean. Although the uranium for fuel will be only slightly enriched, Brazil could bring it up to weapons grade and make warheads before the world would have the time to react. At its announced capacity, the new facility would initially be able to produce five to six warheads per year. By 2014, it could be producing up to 63 per year.

The IAEA is negotiating the amount of access its inspectors will have to the new facility. Brazil maintains that they need not have access to its centrifuges — that seeing what goes in and what goes out should be sufficient. Milhollin and Palmer say results of negotiations will set a precedent for other countries that are planning new enrichment facilities, such as Iran.

Link to full article by Gary Milhollin and Liz Palmer in Science

Reference: Science 306, 617 (2004)