Work resumes on nuclear projects in Argentina

23 April 2020

Atucha site (Credit: NASA)Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA (NA-SA) is restarting work, including construction of a small modular reactor, at the Atucha nuclear power plant site. Work was suspended “due to breaches by contractor companies”.

The decision was taken at a videoconference meeting of shareholders in the company on 17 April. NA-SA, which is majority state owned, operates Argentina’s three nuclear power plants – Atucha 1 (367MWe), Atucha 2 (745MWe) and Embalse (683MWe), all pressurised heavy water reactors, which generate some 5% of Argentina's electricity.

Argentina is also building a domestically-designed small modular reactor – CAREM 25 (Central ARgentina de Elementos Modulares) at the Atucha site. CAREM was originally planned for startup in 2017 but work was delayed and was suspended in 2019.  

NA-SA said work on the refurbishment of Atucha 1 will now restart as well as work on CAREM 25 and on the use fuel dry storage facility (ASECQ).

"We are convinced that we must put the emphasis on continuing with our Nuclear Plan and having nuclear power generation as one of the reserves of power and energy. This sector is fundamental and vital for the interests of the country,” said the Energy Secretary Sergio Lanziani.

NA-SA will resume its management of nuclear projects and reactivate public works that were paralysed by the actions of contractor companies, he noted. As a result, qualified jobs will be generated in the Atucha region.

Before work was suspended, CAREM 25 was in line to be the world’s first operating SMR. The government licensed it as a prototype in 2009. Development started in 1980 and was first announced in 1984. Progress slowed in the early 2000s but a 2006 government decree made the CAREM-25 programme a national priority. A second executive order in 2008 made the project directly responsible to the President of Argentina.

Initially, CAREM-25 was expected to start up in 2017, but this was put back to 2020. Then, in 2019 contractor Techint Engineering & Construction stopped work alleging late payment from the government, design changes and late delivery of technical documentation.

Argentinia's domestically-design CAREM SMR is a pressurised water reactor with a capacity of 25MWe of net, which uses natural circulation in its primary coolant system.

According to the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA), the CAREM facility will include facilities for training operators and performing other research. CNEA said that at least 70% of components and related services are being be supplied by domestic companies and will fully meet international standards.

Following its successful operation at Atucha, Argentina intends to build additional units for domestic use and export. CNEA has plans to build a 100MWe CAREM reactor near Formosa in Argentina and a larger 300MWe version intended for export.

Photo: Atucha nuclear power plant in Argentina (credit: NASA)

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