It is one of the energy megaprojects that Argentina has for the coming years. Atucha III, the new and fourth nuclear power plant in the country, will be a key power generation plant for the national matrix. Collected multiple endorsements, but lots of details about its build are still unresolved and sow questions about this initiative.
Argentina signed a commercial contract with China in February to start building it at the beginning of 2023 and for 7 years. It’s a turnkey contract, budgeted at US$8.3 billion to be paid over 20 yearscounted from the moment the plant is put into operation and begins to generate energy.
In the initial agreement signed by Nucleoeléctrica Argentina (NA-SA) -the company that manages nuclear power plants in the country- and the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) 85% financing was stipulated by the Asian giant. Argentina’s economic instability made the national authorities now ask for 100% of the credit.
We know less than we should about Atucha III.
Negotiations for this expansion have not yet materialized and, as he learned TN, they are not close to doing it. This situation results in NASA and the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) already begin to think that the start of the work can be delayed. The same happens with the other twenty projects that Argentina signed with China in the last year.
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In this context, TN organized a meeting with industry leaders to discuss the Atucha III project. participated Mario Mariscotti -doctor in physics and former director of the CNEA-; Jimenta Latorre -national deputy for Mendoza (UCR) and secretary of the Energy Commission-; Emilio Apud -industrial engineer, former Secretary of Energy and former director of YPF-; Y Daniel Montamat -former Secretary of Energy and former head of YPF-.
One of the great doubts that the Atucha III construction project presents is the financing and subsequent repayment that Argentina will have with China. In the pre-agreement signed in February, it is stipulated that Argentina will begin to repay the credit once the plant comes into operation. The repayment was considered based on the sale of the energy generated during the 12 years after it begins to operate.
From Nucleoeléctrica Argentina they assure that in case of a delay in the work, as could happen if 100% of the financing is not reached, the repayment would begin when the plant begins to generate energy. “It is necessary to avoid that the State commits the country with investments of 20 yearsbut in 20 years we are going to have to pay”, claimed Emilio Apud.
“This It’s not an investment, it’s a loan, the investment would be in these public-private associations”, exclaimed Mario Mariscotti, while adding: “CNEA and NASA have a lot to contribute, but they are not here to do business as such”. In any case, he stressed the surplus performance of nuclear power plants in Argentina.
The state commits the country to 20-year loans.
Deputy Latorre pointed out that “financing is not the same as investment” and added that with “the repayment it is not known what the financial feasibility is”. Along the same lines, Montamat considered that “the new plant may have technical and environmental feasibility, but the economic one does not close”.
A technology different from the one historically used by Argentina
Since the prestigious nuclear energy system began to be considered in Argentina in the 1960s, it was stipulated that the power plants would work with natural uranium and heavy water, due to the possibility of access and generation of these two fuel elements. that’s how they do it Atucha I, II and Reservoirthe three nuclear power plants in the country.
It happens that the Hualong Onethe nuclear reactor developed by China and that will be the one that works in Atucha III, works with enriched uranium and light water. Today, Argentina does not have the capacity to generate enriched uranium. From the Government they assure that this is not a problem and Mariscotti himself pointed out that “at present there should be no problems with suppliers”.
But this dependency sets off other alarms which are also related to technology transfer from China. “It is a closed turnkey contract that hinders the transfer of technology and knowledge,” warned legislator Latorre, while also pointing out that “the objection to the use of enriched uranium has not been clarified.”
Mariscotti also pointed out that “the fuel elements are an important issue of sovereignty”, he wondered “who is going to make them” and assured that “Argentina has the ability to manufacture fuel elements”, which could even be exported later.
The economic feasibility of Atucha III does not close.
Along the same lines, former Secretary of Energy Emilio Apud demanded that “many resources that Argentina has are valued”, so that “they believe us again because we have lost the trust of the world”. He also pointed out that the Chinese are “desperate” to install the reactor because “it is a good technology but they only have one in China and one in Pakistan, they need to expand it for when the market expands.”
Argentine nuclear potential
Argentina is one of the regional leaders at the nuclear level. It is a pioneer in the development of technology and medicine in the sector, together with the added value of having three nuclear power plants in operation. “The nuclear area is an opportunity for economic development”, stated Mario Mariscotti.
This is not an investment, it is a loan.
In the same sense, the deputy Latorre recognized that “there is great potential ahead and Argentina has an important challenge”, while warning that “there has to be a solid strategic plan because it is an expensive energy”.
Another factor in favor of Argentina is the “international recognition”. The cases of the ambassadors bear witness to this. Raphael Grossi as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the recent appointment of Gustavo Zlauvinen as president of the tenth Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
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“In nuclear matters we are reliable”, emphasized the former Secretary of Energy Daniel Montamat, although on the other hand he pointed out: “In terms of nuclear energy, Argentina has a low participation because it competes with other energy sources with potential such as natural gas or renewable energies. The costs of these energies have become cheaper and it makes it more difficult for nuclear energy to compete”.