During the 70s and 80s Chile was in a process of modernizing the electricity sector. During these years, Chile liberalized its economy, privatized public service companies and opened the electricity sector to foreign investors.
During this time, however, Chile did not initiate any nuclear power programs unlike Argentina and Brazil. Chile seemed unwilling to consider a nuclear energy option. Even in 2005, future President Michelle Bachelet did not want to incorporate the development of nuclear energy as a valid option as part of her national energy policy.
Subsequently, several factors caused a change in the conception of nuclear energy in Chile. On the one hand, after years of increasing gas imports from Argentina, the neighboring country abruptly reduced gas exports to Chile. Until now, Argentine gas exports have led to a rapid increase in electricity production, but this change has involved costly energy substitutions.
Added to all this was the volatility of the prices of fossil fuels worldwide with a tendency to growth, as well as the effect of a drought in the generation of hydroelectric plants and an earthquake in electricity generation in the North. All this led to an effective energy crisis from 2006 to 2008.
With a growing economy, electricity consumption in Chile was projected to continue growing by six to seven percent until 2020, and the government admitted that it must rapidly develop sufficient and competitive energy resources. For 2010, a report by the "Ministry of Energy", similar to Chile's to the United States Department of Energy, evaluated that a nuclear energy program would be convenient, competitive and sustainable, and in fact it is probably necessary for Chile's energy demands from 2024.
Nuclear energy in Chile appears for the first time in 1964 with the proposal of the project carried out by Dr. Cruz-Coke.
What is the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission?
The most important organization in Chile is the CCHEN (Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission) that is in charge of everything related to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. (Since nuclear energy was initially used for war purposes).
The CCHEN has two nuclear reactors for research, the Aguirre and La Reina Nuclear Studies Center. All applications related to nuclear energy are made in this center. In addition, CCHEN carries out activities related to the training of Chilean professionals and students in the field of nuclear energy.
What is the history of CCHEN?
After the United States published information on nuclear matters in 1955, Dr. Eduardo Cruz-Coke Lassabe (an important Chilean doctor and politician), thought that nuclear energy would be very important for Chile. This caused the Chilean Senate to propose the creation of an institution to regulate aspects related to nuclear energy. Ten years later, the National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) was created.
Cruz-Coke presented important projects, among them is the construction of the first Nuclear Power Plant in charge of CCHEN and Endesa. Although despite the great initial enthusiasm, the governments preferred to avoid risks with such an expensive project and with such a long-term performance. On the other hand, if there has been a regulation in Chile on aspects related to nuclear energy.
How has nuclear energy developed in Chile?
In Chile 3 stages in nuclear development are distinguished:
- Technological exploration between 1955 and 1964.
- Technological research between 1964 and 1974
- The experimental level from 1983 onwards.
Technological exploration of nuclear energy in Chile (1955-1964)
The first thing was to send scientists and officials to study the advances and technology of nuclear energy in other countries. Meanwhile, Chile joined CIEN (Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission), which was created for the cooperation of the states of said commission with the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This was in 1959, the same year that Chile signed other agreements, one with the United States to provide support in relation to nuclear energy research and another was the Antarctic Treaty, which, among other things, prohibits nuclear explosions and eliminated it. of radioactive waste in this territory.
A year later, in 1960, Chile became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In 1962, training in the clinical use of radioisotopes began.
In 1963 the treaty of partial prohibition of tests in the atmosphere was signed. That same year Chile was elected a state of the IAEA in representation of Latin America.
Finally, on April 16, 1964, Dr. Eduardo Cruz-Coke managed to make his first project a reality: the National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) was created, of which he was its first president.
Technological research (1964-1974)
This was characterized by the formation of plans, the creation of infrastructure, the signing of technical assistance agreements, the creation of advisory committees in various areas, the recruitment of Chilean or foreign professionals to dedicate themselves to the development of nuclear energy in Chile.
Among these we highlight the following facts:
- Creation of the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission
- Creation of the nuclear power station "Central la Reina"
- Measurement of environmental radioactivity
Creation of the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission
In 1965 the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission was created as a continuation of the previous commission. It was created as an autonomous state administration body with the objective of addressing problems related to the production, acquisition, transfer, transportation and peaceful use of atomic energy and fissile and radioactive materials.
CCHEN's most important mission was to propose the bill to the Nuclear Energy Commission. The respective law was put into practice on October 23, 1965.
In 1966 the University of Californa donates a cyclotron to the University of Chile. This donation was very important for the research and training of national physicists in the nuclear area.
CCHEN also sponsored projects from Chilean universities on topics such as medicine, agriculture, chemistry, among others.
Creation of the nuclear power station "Central la Reina"
In 1966, the creation of a "Central la Reina" nuclear study center stands out. In this year there were around 120 professionals working in 29 groups of teaching researchers who worked on nuclear aspects of medicine, physics, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, veterinary science, science, etc.
Measurement of environmental radioactivity
The Department of Physics of the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Mathematics of the University of Chile made the first measurements of air radioactivity that year, on the islands of Pascua and Juan Fernández. Later, CCHEN established a national program for the measurement of environmental radioactivity with the help of the National Health Service, the University of Chile, the Chilean Air Force and the Technical University Federico Santa María.
Also in 1966, Chile signed an agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy with different countries and International Organizations.
In late 1968 the La Reina Nuclear Studies Center was created. From 1968, radiological control of milk and grass was carried out. In July 1969, the environmental radioactivity laboratory was transferred to CEN La Reina.
In 1970 the first CEN La Reina building was completed. The first laboratories to be enabled were those for nuclear applications related to nuclear energy in industry, agriculture and hydrology, and personnel dosimetry.
In 1972 Chile signs an agreement with Spain for collaboration in the investigation of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. This agreement led to the start of the work of the Lo Aguirre Nuclear Studies Center also involving the Spanish Nuclear Energy Board.
In 1973 CCHEN created the Institute of Nuclear Medicine (IMN) and the Center for Nuclear Studies of the Army (CENE). A year later, the CCHEN radiomedical service was launched.
On June 21, 1966, CCHEN received the facilities and projects of the army's nuclear studies center, with the aim of unifying the entire development of nuclear energy in Chile in a single body.
In 1980 the board of directors gave CCHEN a new orientation. With the objective of giving greater national development, improving security and radiation protection and improving certain operational aspects.
Experimental level since 1983
The “nuclear development plan” is designed with the purpose of making a regulation and technical norm of nuclear safety and radiation protection, developing an active policy of international relations and putting facilities at pilot level in order to develop a future program of nuclear power plants of power.
On May 2, 1984, the nuclear safety law was enacted. Which 4 years later transfers the control function of the first-class radioactive facilities to CCHEN.
A year later, the “Protocol for the Cooperation of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy” was signed with the China Nuclear Corporation.
In 1994 Chile signed the convention on nuclear safety in Vienna.
In 1995 Chile became part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (TNP).