Brazil has become the preeminent Latin American nation in recent years, leading in most areas of industry and commerce. New president Dilma Rousseff may now push for dominance in the arena of regional nuclear supremacy.
Dilma Rousseff will be expected to continue Lula's policies
Workers' Party candidate Dilma Rousseff was elected as Brazil's first female president on Sunday, succeeding her mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lula has been championing Rousseff at least in part to maintain continuity in the country, where he has presided over a period of financial stability, welfare reform, booming consumption, and strong exports of Brazil's abundant natural resources.
Dilma will inherit Brazil's nuclear program if elected
Many observers believe it is Lula's policies - which Rousseff is expected to follow - that are boosting her candidacy among the populace. It appears that the president is not the only one eager to see his legacy continue.
Expectations for a new president
However, one policy that Dilma will inherit - and be expected to expand upon - may draw unwanted international attention. Brazil has been actively seeking to expand its nuclear power structure under Lula's tenure as president and it is expected to develop further under his successor.
"Dilma will continue Lula's vision but nuclear ambitions were not a big theme in the electoral campaigns and it will not be a big theme during her administration," Thiago de Aragao, the director for Latin American political risk analysis at Arko Advice, a political think-tank in Brazil, told Deutsche Welle. "The Brazilians have a single goal: to have the best nuclear capability the country can have, but one step lower, without the atomic bomb."
Brazil has the most advanced nuclear capabilities in Latin America with two nuclear power plants - Angra I and Angra II - in operation. A third, Angra III, is under construction. It has highly skilled scientists, advanced technologies for enriching uranium, and a dependable raw material base. Only Argentina provides Brazil with any serious competition.
Ambition: reliable exporter
"Brazil has a very modern capability of enriching uranium," de Aragao said. According to government sources, Brazilian technology is unique and very advanced compared to others, he said. Alongside that, the country has one of the top five uranium reserves in the world.
"As an aspiring power, Brazil is able to control, or close to controlling, all areas of nuclear capability. The major ambition is to become a reliable exporter of enriched uranium in the near future."
Brazil is building a third Angra reactor
The advanced state of Brazil's nuclear industry raises the question of whether progress will stop there. Despite being a signatory to a number of relevant accords, Brazil's increased levels of uranium enrichment lend themselves to defense-related applications and technologies. Should it choose to, Brazil could become an even more powerful force on the continent, backed with an arsenal of atomic weapons.
However, Thiago de Aragao believes that Brazil can assert regional power through its nuclear program without developing weapons.
"The Brazilian society and the major stakeholders in Brazilian politics are still very firm on their positions that Brazil should not have a bomb," he said. "Brazil wants to tell the world: 'We have all the capability and technology to have a bomb, but we choose not to, and this should be seen as an example to follow.' Politically, Brazil could gain more with this behavior than from having an atomic bomb and causing problems with weaker allies."
Civil advances raise possibility of new bomb program
Whether Dilma pursues a weapons program to go along with the potential expansion of civilian nuclear activities remains to be seen. But while South America currently remains A-bomb free - rumors of a secret weapons program in Argentina aside - experts believe that the continent will eventually be forced to accept a nuclear-armed power.
That may well be a long time in the future. But as one of the leaders in most arenas in South America, no-one would bet against Brazil taking the lead.
The UN's nuclear watchdog has been refused full access
According to a report published by the Global Security.org think-tank, Brazil pursued a covert nuclear weapons program in the mid-1970s, siphoning off material and expertise from its growing civilian projects into parallel military programs. The pursuit of nuclear weapons accelerated in the 1980s in response to the suspected rival program in Argentina, before the secret operation was finally made public in 1988. The official stance at the time was that Brazil had failed to develop a weapon from its research.
To read more about Brazil's nuclear capacities, read below