Country profile: Brazil

By Ms. Sara Mansour, Analyst, IB Consultancy

In South America, the Brazilian Army has made new attempts to improve its CBRN response capabilities. Founded in December 2012, the 1st CBRN Defense Battalion is based in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Considering this, Brazil's major special operations force is the only unit of the army trained to wage unconventional warfare. The Army's frontline CBRN deployment oversees the monitoring, identification, and decontamination of CBRN threats.

High visibility events in Brazil, such as the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, which welcomed prominent state officials and international figures, brought remarkable attention to the field of CBRN. These events provided a vital opportunity for the Brazilian Army to test their strengths and weaknesses and increase their knowledge in the subject. In particular, the advantages acquired in the CBRN defense were beneficial also for government entities, first responders, and medical care experts. The 1st Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Defense Battalion is continually active in training which is aimed at contributing to the instruction of reconnaissance equipment and chemical identification as well as getting in contact with modern technologies. Brazil is an extremely active participant in chemical and biological weapons nonproliferation efforts and the country has gained a lot of international recognition because of the experience gained through facilitating so many high-visibility events.

Focus on Nuclear Weapons

Brazil is one of the few countries with capabilities in all major aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, from mineral exploration to uranium upgrades and fuel production. Brazil has never manufactured nuclear weapons and there is no proof that it has a goal of increasing uranium enrichment to more than 20%. From the 1960s to the mid-1990s, Brazil embarked on a focused program to enhance nuclear innovation, including the development of a uranium advancement office under the Navy’s division.

From the 1970s to the early 1990s, many external specialists suspected that Brazil was using its considerable nuclear energy program to build supportive nuclear weapons capacity. After moving to a civilian administration and ending a nuclear and missile competition with Argentina in the early 1990s, Brazil scaled back its ballistic missile program so even though the country owns some of the key technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons, Brazil moved to a civil atomic program set up. In fact, Brazil became a state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a signatory to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and as well as being one of the main sponsors of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Brazil is the only non-nuclear-weapon state that has a regular civilian nuclear program to lease innovations in uranium mining from the state's armed forces. Brazil, with one of the largest uranium savings on the planet, can use locally advanced uranium to meet all the needs of nuclear fuel. Nuclear energy accounts for about 3% of the country's electricity generation, which is supplied by two operating nuclear power plants, Angra 1 and Angra 2. The third power plant, Angra 3, began reconstruction in 2021 and is expected to be operational by November 2026. Immediately after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan in March 2011, the Brazilian government prepared a response plan. It includes the expansion of safety assessment, management, and regulation of current nuclear power plants to avoid similar catastrophes in the country.

Bolsonaro's other nuclear priorities are the advancement of Brazil's Almirante Alberto, a locally fabricated atomic-fueled submarine. The Brazilian Navy’s submarine program is slowly evolving giving time to the negotiations, in fact, the interesting circumstance is that while Brazil claims that the propulsion of submarines is peaceful, the IAEA considers its activities to be non-peaceful and therefore eligible for an exemption. The truth is that today non-nuclear submarines excel in most missions in coastal waters. Therefore, unless the country has global ambitions, there is little point in choosing a nuclear submarine. However, for those with resources, nuclear submarines still offer the opportunity to join exclusive and prestigious positions in the international scenario. And even a mere announcement of interest in nuclear submarines seems to be justification for the domestic uranium enrichment industry. Brazil sought cooperation with relevant international actors such as Argentina, France, and Russia. France is supporting the planning and development of 4,000 tons of nuclear submarines by supplying trainings of Brazilian officials and technical staff, and the transfer of technology to build the non-nuclear part of the submarine. Even though the cooperation agreement covers the transfer of expertise from France to Brazil, it does not include nuclear propulsion. This specific technical knowledge is entirely homemade and developed by the Navy at its research facility. The Brazilian Navy's modernization program provides an order of events and the development of six SSN submarines. In Brazil's ideology, the reason for the defense system is to improve its strategic deterrence against all forces hostile to Brazil's land and sea.

The country recognizes that future nuclear fleets will allow at least some weapons to withstand the first nuclear or non-nuclear attacks by the enemy and avoid additional attack attempts. In addition, the legitimacy of developing a nuclear submarine is to help protect the Blue Amazon, a rich region covering approximately 4.5 million km2 from the Brazilian coast. The region is the country's economic zone of choice, with a wide variety of marine life, important metal minerals, and the second largest and rarest earth deposit of oil. Significant undersea oil savings (estimated at 33 billion barrels), in the provincial waters of Brazil, add further vitality to this quest. The Brazilian Navy is responsible for ensuring a coastline of about 7,400 km, and Brazilian submarines are a fundamental part to play as deterrents in the defense strategy. Brazilian politicians and military officials believe that nuclear submarines support their goal of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

The CDefNBQR (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Defense Center) of the Brazilian Marine Corps oversees the ARAMAR Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Defense Battalion, which is based in Iperó, São Paulo state, and was created to provide physical security and perform CBRN emergency control actions. The Centro Experimental Aramar is responsible for developing Brazilian Navy nuclear research and is the only army establishment in a non-nuclear weapon state to formally host a uranium enrichment plant. The Brazilian Navy has been a major player in the country's nuclear field since the late 1970s. The Navy keeps close ties with the Brazilian Atomic Energy Research Institute (IPEN), one of the country's leading nuclear research and training institutions. The rise of the Navy as a key player brings concern about the future of civilian control over nuclear policy. The direction taken is particularly worrying since the civilian nuclear sector is losing experts in the field, also in areas such as the production of critical medical radioisotopes, the operation and maintenance of research nuclear reactors and the training of future generations in fundamental nuclear science. Brazil is the seventh country in the world to develop the technology needed to build nuclear submarines, after the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and India. So far, except for Iran and South Korea, other non-nuclear-weapon states have shown no interest in pursuing nuclear submarines.

Conclusions

For many decades, Brazil focused on encouraging international nuclear disarmament, persuading nuclear weapon states to disarm, and resisting unilateral privileges on defense and transparency measures. Since the presidential election, President Bolsonaro has promised to give the military a key role in his administration, since 1985 the government has the highest number of ministers with military backgrounds. Therefore, the army has substantial freedom of action and benefits from the population’s support. This clearly affects the nuclear sector, which is considered critical by the Navy. Internationally, Brazil is working to maintain its reputation as a responsible actor within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agency, even if Bolsonaro drove some international attention with his support of nuclear weapons as tools of peace and stability.