Nuclear (soft) power

Talk of Russian investment grows in Argentina, this time it's nuclear reactors.

It may come as a surprise to some readers that Argentina has a long history with nuclear energy, stretching back to the 1950s. In fact, under military dictatorship, the country had a nuclear weapons research programme which was abandoned shortly before the return of democracy in 1983. Ever since, Argentina has been an advocate of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons but has continued to use nuclear power in non-military roles, and is noted as an exporter of civilian-use nuclear technology.

Today, Argentina has three nuclear reactors, Atucha 1, Embalse and Atucha 2, generating about 5 per cent of the country’s power. A local energy consultant explained, “There are three operational plants but a fourth is planned with Chinese financing, which would begin construction in 2028, although the project is on standby.”

Recently, rumours have emerged that Argentina is talking to Russia about the construction of nuclear reactors in return for taking the Sputnik vaccine. Dmitry Feoktistov, Russian ambassador to Buenos Aires, admitted in a television interview in early June that, in the past, Russia had offered to build high power nuclear plants in Argentina. Moscow offered three options to the Argentinean government: a large nuclear plant, a medium-scale reactor plant, or a floating nuclear plant.

According to local media, reviving these old projects, following a 2008 nuclear cooperation agreement, could be part of Russia’s vaccine diplomacy at a moment when Argentina is failing to gain access to Western COVID-19 vaccines. Feoktistov said, “Our nuclear plants are as safe as our Sputnik vaccine.” However, a local energy consultant didn’t think the discussions about nuclear plants and vaccines were linked, “Surely the rumours have some support in reality, discussions are ongoing about nuclear power and the Sputnik vaccine, but I honestly don’t believe the two are linked.”

“Surely the rumours have some support in reality, discussions are ongoing about nuclear power and the Sputnik vaccine, but I honestly don’t believe the two are linked.”

Energy consultant, Argentina

Despite the ambitious plan described by the Russian ambassador, the project is not expected to prosper in the near future. Following meetings between the Minister of Energy of Argentina, Martín Guzmán, and the head of Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company, the Argentinean government remains unconvinced about its potential benefits. Buenos Aires is also aware of the dangers and costs of its maintenance and the political strings that such facilities could entail.

It is also worth noting that, according to our sources, Argentina doesn’t need additional nuclear capacity, “I wouldn’t say Argentina needs this,” said an energy consultant in Buenos Aires, “there is plenty of natural gas available, especially if Vaca Muerta is developed, there is also plenty of hydroelectric potential, not to mention wind and solar. Rather than thinking about Atucha 3 or 4 with the Chinese or another project with the Russians, the government should focus on extending the useful life of Atucha 1.”

This is just the latest example of growing talk about Russian interest in Argentina, according to a Professor of international relations in Buenos Aires, “Since 2014, there has been talk about Russian investment in Argentina. The first rumours came at the end of Cristina Fernandez’s government, and continued during Macri’s time. The sectors repeatedly mentioned are transport and energy.”

“I wouldn’t bet on the arrival of large Russian investments, at least on the short-term.”

Professor, international relations, Argentina

Despite the talk, there has been no action and this is not expected to change on the short-term, according to the Professor of international relations, “I wouldn’t bet on the arrival of large Russian investments, at least in the short-term. The projects they are discussing are worth billions of dollars, where is either country going to get that sort of money?”

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