Nuclear Power Plant Embalse,

Nuclear Power in Argentina

Nuclear power in Argentina

Electricity consumption in Argentina has grown strongly since 1990. Per capita consumption was just over 2000 kWh / year in 2002 and increased to around 3000 kWh / year in 2015. Gross electricity production in 2016 was 147 TWh , with 75 TWh (51%) of natural gas, 38 TWh (26%) of hydraulic energy, 21 TWh (14%) of oil, 3 TWh (2%) of coal, 8 TWh (5% *) of nuclear energy and 10 TWh of net import. The total electrical energy produced by fossil fuels is 99TWh.

In Argentina, the production of electrical energy is largely privatized, and is regulated by the ENRE (National Electricity Regulatory Entity). The installed capacity is about 35 GW, about 11% of which is from self-producers and private generators.

What Are the Nuclear Reactors in Argentina?

In Argentina, approximately 10% of electricity comes from 3 operational nuclear reactors:

  • the Embalse nuclear power plant, a CANDU reactor
  • the Atucha 1 nuclear plant in 1974, a German design by PHWR. In 2001, the plant was modified to burn slightly enriched uranium, making it the first PHWR reactor to burn that nuclear fuel worldwide. The Atucha nuclear power plant was originally planned to be a multi-reactor complex.
  • Atucha 2 (similar to Atucha1 but more powerful) started producing power on June 3, 2014, it is expected to produce 745MWh. Plans have been announced for Atucha III, a third reactor at the Atucha complex.

There are also other research reactors in the country. Furthermore, Argentina exports nuclear technology.

Nucleoeléctrica de Argentina and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited are negotiating the contracts and the project delivery model for a new 740 MWe CANDU nuclear power plant.

Development of the Argentine Nuclear Industry

In 1950 the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) was created. This commission led to a series of activities focused on the research and development of nuclear energy in Argentina, including the construction of several nuclear research reactors. Five nuclear research reactors are currently operating with plans to build a sixth nuclear power reactor.

In 1964 Argentina became fully interested in nuclear energy and carried out a feasibility study to build a plant in the Buenos Aires region from 300 to 500 MW. The country's policy was firmly based on the use of heavy water nuclear reactors using natural uranium as nuclear fuel. The most attractive offers that were finally accepted were those of Canada and Germany. As a result, the Atucha nuclear power plant was built in Lima, 115 km northwest of Buenos Aires.

Central nuclear Atucha I - ArgentinaThe Atucha 1 nuclear power plant began operating in 1974, becoming the first Argentine nuclear power plant.

In 1967, a second feasibility study was conducted of a larger nuclear power plant in the Córdoba region reservoir, 500 km inland. In this case, a CANDU-6 reactor from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) was selected, in part due to the accompanying technology transfer agreement, and was built with the Italian company Italimpianti. The Embalse nuclear power plant became operational in 1984.

In 2010, an agreement was signed to renovate the plant and extend its useful life by 25 years. It was used to increase power by approximately 7% with an investment of $ 240 million. About 80% of its capacity is currently operating to limit neutron damage in pressure tubes.

In 1979, a third nuclear power plant in Argentina - Atucha 2 - was projected following a decision by the Argentine government to have four more units to come into operation between 1987 and 1997. It was a Siemens design. Construction started in 1981. However, work progressed slowly due to lack of funds and was suspended in 1994 with 81% of the plant built.

In 1994, Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA (NASA) was created to take over the CNEA nuclear power plants and supervise the construction of Atucha 2.

The design of the Siemens Atucha PHWR units was unique to Argentina, and NASA sought the expertise of Germany, Spain, and Brazil to complete the unit. In 2003, plans were presented to complete the 692 MW of Atucha 2. In August 2006, the government announced a US plan. 3500 million dollars to develop nuclear energy in Argentina. It was about finishing Atucha 2 and extending the operational lifespan of Atucha 1 and Reservoir.

The goal was for nuclear power to be part of an expansion of generation capacity to meet growing demand. Meanwhile, a feasibility study was carried out on a fourth generation reactor to start construction from 2010.

In July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Argentine President Cristina Fernández Kirchner, during a visit to the country.

In February 2015, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a cooperation agreement, and the construction of a Hualong One design power plant was proposed.

In December 2015, a new uranium enrichment plant was inaugurated to manufacture fuel for Argentina's nuclear plants, located in Pilcaniyeu. The plant will use more modern laser and gas diffusion techniques.

China and Argentina agreed to a contract to build a 700 MWe CANDU 6-derived reactor. Its construction was scheduled to start in 2018 in Atucha, but was suspended indefinitely by the Mauricio Macri government due to financial problems. Construction of a 1000 MWe Hualong One plant is slated to begin in 2020.

Reactor Nuclear CAREM

Another aspect of the 2006 plan was a step toward building a 27 MW prototype of the CAREM reactor. It is currently in the pre-construction stage in the northwestern province of Formosa.

The CAREM nuclear reactor was developed by CNEA and INVAP (Applied Research). The nuclear CAREM reactor is a modular 100 megawatt thermal system with a simplified water pressure nuclear reactor with integral steam generators.

This reactor is designed to be used for electricity generation (27 MWe net) or as a research reactor or for water desalination. Recent studies have evaluated the possibility of increasing the scale of 100 or 300 MWe. It is a mature design that could be deployed in a decade.

What Are the Uranium Resources in Argentina?

Argentina's uranium resources are only about 15,000 tU, despite the CNEA estimating that there are about 55,000 tU as "exploration targets". Starting in the mid 1950s, uranium exploration and some mining was carried out, but the last mine closed in 1997 for economic reasons.

However, in Argentina there are plans to reopen the Sierra Pintada CNEA mine in Mendoza, in the center-west, closed since 1997. It is also known as the San Rafael y el Molino mine. The resumption of uranium mining is part of the 2006 plan.

In 2007, CNEA reached an agreement with the Provincial Government of Salta, in the north of the country, to reopen the Don Otto uranium mine, which operated intermittently from 1963 to 1981.

Radioactive Waste Management in Argentina

Since April 1997 the National Nuclear Activity Law assigns the responsibility of the CNEA for the management of radioactive waste, which creates a special fund for this purpose.

Low and medium-level waste, including used fuel from research reactors, is handled at CNEA Ezeiza facilities. The fuel used is stored in each plant.

The CNEA is also responsible for dismantling the equipment, which must be progressively financed by each operation of the plant.

Regulation and Safety

In 1994, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (Nuclear Regulatory Authority of, RNA) was formed and took over all regulatory functions of the National Nuclear Regulatory Board (ENREN, National Nuclear Regulatory Authority) and the CNEA. As well as radiation protection, it is also responsible for security, licenses and guarantees. It reports directly to the President.

The Nuclear Activity Law of 1997 establishes the respective functions of the CNEA and the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. The 1994 National Mining Code stipulates that the government has the first option to buy all the uranium produced in Argentina, after guaranteeing internal supply. It also regulates development activities against environmental standards.

Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty

Within the history of nuclear energy, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a treaty open for signature on July 1, 1968, in force since March 5, 1970, which restricts the possession of nuclear weapons and is part of Both from the efforts of the international community to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is made up of the vast majority of sovereign States. Only five states were allowed to possess nuclear weapons: the United States (signatory in 1968), the United Kingdom (1968), France (1992), the Soviet Union (1968, replaced by Russia), and the People's Republic of China (1992). The special status of these five "Nuclearly Armed States" (NWS) was defined from the fact that they were the only ones that had detonated a nuclear test until 1967.

Argentina has been a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since 1995 as a state without nuclear weapons, and has been a party to the Tlatelolco Treaty since 1994. However, total safeguards have operated since 1991 in collaboration with the Brazilian Agency -Argentina of Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Argentina has not signed the Additional Protocol in relation to its safeguards agreements with the IAEA. The country is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.


Published: July 18, 2011
Last review: May 24, 2019