Argentina hopes to begin construction of a new NPP later this year, José Luis Antúnez, president of nuclear utility Nucleoeléctrica SA (NA-SA) told Diálogo Chino on 21 April. Dialogo Chino describes itself as “the only independent journalism platform dedicated to better understanding the China-Latin America relationship and its sustainable development challenges”. The new NPP, Atucha III, will be constructed at the same complex as Atucha I and II, in Zárate, about 100 km north of Buenos Aires. It will generate 1,200 MWe and cost $8 billion, with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) expected to finance the majority of the project. China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) will provide the Hualong One reactor.
“We have to continue to improve nuclear’s image, and demonstrate that it is part of the solution to climate change,” said Antúnez. The project, originally presented in 2015, was relaunched following President President Alberto Fernández’s visit to Beijing in February, where he confirmed Argentina’s membership of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The two governments have already signed the contract for the plant but the details are yet to be finalised.
“The contract has been signed and we are now working on the necessary steps to bring it into force. We have a maximum term of nine months to conclude, but we hope to achieve it in less time. We have to close the financial agreement – the credit details and the disbursement schedule. We hope to get the best possible conditions from China, especially now that Argentina has joined the Belt and Road Initiative,” Antúnez explained.
He added: “Another important point to be agreed is the transfer of technology. China will provide the enriched uranium necessary for us to manufacture the fuel for the plant in Argentina, which they will supervise. As the agreement was awarded directly and without a tender, it is necessary to demonstrate that the price and financing are reasonable. An environmental impact study must also be carried out.”
He said that, after the contract enters into force, Argentina will receive the first disbursement from China and construction, which will take eight years. “The work will be divided into 19 buildings in total, including one for the reactor, another for the turbine, and another for the control room, among others, on a 35-hectare site.”
He continued: “We will award $500 million in supply purchases to Argentinean industries and we will train future operators for the plant. We will hire 5,000 people at the peak of construction and more than 600 once it is in permanent operation. With this new plant, Atucha will become Argentina’s nuclear hub.
Antúnez believes the Hualong reactor “represents a new horizon for Argentina” and could lead to further development of the local technological and scientific sector. “We are going to acquire a new technology and take advantage of what we have already learned in other projects.” The Argentine government approved the technology in 2012 but faced criticism as it had not yet been tested. However, China already has four Hualong reactors in operation and six in the pipeline.
Once the Hualong One is in operation Argentina may consider further co-operation with China on a Candu reactor. Argentina already operates a Candu reactor at its Embalse NPP and its two other rpower reactors at Atucha are also pressurised water reactors. “For now, Nucleoeléctrica, with its modest financial resources, is working on the engineering of the project and the purchases will be made from the Embalse NPP…. This does not mean that the reactor will be installed there, but that it will be designed there.”
As to other co-operation with China, Antúnez noted: “China recently contracted us to carry out the life-extension engineering for the Candu power plant in Qinshan City. It’s a way of gaining mutual trust. There are two more Candu projects in the pipeline in China, so there could be some very interesting things in the coming years.”
Referring to the target to achieve net zero by 2050, he said: “This is a huge task. Nuclear power is a clean technology and allows for large power plants. It is part of the decarbonisation solution. All nations are realising this. China was the first, with a programme to build 150 reactors in 30 years. Argentina will continue to increase not only its nuclear capacity, but also hydro, solar and wind.”
However, he acknowledged that there was some opposition to nuclear in Argentina, although the image was improving. “We have environmental groups condemning the use of nuclear energy and we have legislation in provinces prohibiting its use. Nuclear energy has its flaws – it is an investment-intensive industry. We have to continue to improve our image, work well and demonstrate that, in the face of climate change, nuclear is part of the solution.”