Argentina seeks to delay new NPPs

6 October 2016

Argentina’s new government is seeking to postpone the construction of two new nuclear plants, which are to be built with assistance from China. The final contracts were to be signed in December, but the government they will probably be signed in March, when president Mauricio Macri visits Beijing. The construction of the fifth plant would be postponed at least until 2019, an official source told Pagina 12 on 3 October.

The administration of former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had closed the deal for the two plants and former planning minister Julio de Vido, signed a cooperation agreement with the director of the National Energy Administration of China, Xu Xinxiong, for their construction. In addition to the single unit Embalse NPP and two units at the Atucha NPP – all pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) a third PHWR unit is to be built at Atucha and in November 2015 technical and commercial agreements were signed related to Atucha III. Also, the final version of a framework contract between nuclear utility Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA (NASA) and the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) was agreed to build the fifth nuclear unit elsewhere.

Atucha III will be a natural uranium and heavy-water reactor to take advantage of Argentina’s expertise in PHWR technology after it completed Atucha II. However, China is seeking to sell its Hualong One pressurised water reactor (PWR) to Argentina for the fifth plant, which will use enriched uranium and light water, a technology towards which Argentina had decided to gradually move. The agreement included Chinese funding for the construction of a 760MWe PHWR and a 1,000MWe light-water reactor (LWR).

Construction was originally scheduled to start this year, but after the change of government in 2015, current Energy Minister Juan Jose Aranguren, and the undersecretary of the area, Julian Gadano, confirmed that during 2016 they would review the contracts. They proposed to go ahead first with the PHWR and to postpone for two years construction of the LWR. The construction of the Atucha III will begin in the second half of 2017 and the project to build the fifth power plant would be suspended at least until 2019. "The Nucleoelectrica company is not in a condition to build two power plants at the same time. We have therefore requested that there is postponement between the beginning of the construction of the Atucha III power plant and the fifth plant. China told Macri at the last G-20 summit that it accepts an 18-month delay, but we want it to be of 24 months," the official source told Pagina 12.

The government notes that the postponement of the fifth plant was not only because of the limitations of Nucleoelectrica but also to gain time to find a new site for the plant. A technical committee headed by the National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA) has been set up to recommend a shortlist of possible sites.

The government has also decided to reactivate its heavy-water industrial plant near the city of Neuquen. The the plan is to obtain the first heavy water this month. The plant only produces about 56t a year with one production line which will make it impossible to produce the 500t that Atucha III will require for its start-up. Therefore, the government is considering adding a second production line.

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