By Applegarth, Claire
Arms Control Today , Vol. 34, No. 9
Brazil Oct. 19 granted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors limited access to crucial uranium-enrichment technology, increasing the prospects for an end to a nearly six-month-old standoff over the South American giant's nuclear program.
The dispute broke out in April when IAEA inspectors arrived at Brazil's uranium-enrichment facility in Resende, near Rio de Janeiro (see ACT, May 2004) and were barred from viewing many of the plant's centrifuge components. The inspectors were restricted to the vicinity of the plant and to monitoring the arrival and departure of uranium.
Agency inspectors who arrived at the Resende plant Oct. 19 found Brazilian officials to be more open. Brazil had announced a day earlier that inspectors would be permitted to view pipes and valves of the plant's centrifuge while other components remained hidden behind panels. Brazilian National Nuclear Energy Commission head Odair Dias Goncalves said at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 18 that Brazil was "very optimistic that they [the IAEA] would accept" this proposal as the IAEA was no longer requesting "total and unrestricted access." He anticipated that inspectors would return to the country in the coming weeks to give the Resende plant final approval so that it may begin enriching uranium. The IAEA declined to comment on the inspections arrangement.
Brazil, which possesses the world's sixth-largest natural uranium reserves, has justified such limited monitoring on the grounds that opening its facility to agency inspectors could lead to industrial espionage of what it claims is novel enrichment technology. IAEA inspectors want such access to ensure that Brazil, a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is only enriching uranium to the low levels needed for civilian nuclear reactors rather than to the higher levels that can provide the explosive material for a nuclear weapon. According to IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming, visual access to the centrifuges is necessary for the IAEA to be "absolutely sure that no nuclear technology can be diverted" from the facility. Such requests also are consistent with IAEA inspection requirements elsewhere.
Informal discussions between the IAEA and Brazil had eased tensions in weeks prior to the arrival of inspectors, prompting diplomats and officials to anticipate that a written agreement would be signed formalizing the details of the inspections. No formal agreement was signed.
Brazil's resistance to the inspections had prompted some international concerns because of its past nuclear history. It began developing a covert nuclear weapons program in 1975 but abandoned it under a new government and constitution in the late 1980s. Still, secretary of State Colin Powell, during a visit to Brazil Oct. 4-6, expressed confidence in the peaceful nature of Brazil's nuclear activities. Powell remarked to Brazil's TV Globo Oct. 5 that "the United States understands that Brazil has no interest in a nuclear weapon, no desire and no plans, no programs, no intention of moving toward a nuclear weapon. …