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South America reconsiders nuclear power as Japan crisis continues

As Japan struggles to prevent a nuclear catastrophe following an earthquake and tsunami off its coast, Deutsche Welle takes a look at the nuclear status of countries around the world, focusing here on South America.

The Embalse nuclear plant in Argentina

Embalse was Argentina's second nuclear plant

As the nuclear crisis intensifies in Japan, thoughts have turned to the atomic power industries in other countries and to questions of safety. There are 439 nuclear reactors the world over, six of which can be found in Latin America.

Argentina was the forerunner in this regard and currently has two plants in operation. A third is under construction.

The first of the country's plants to open was Atucha I on the shores of River Parana de las Palmas some 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the capital, Buenos Aires. Construction was completed in 1974. Work on Atucha II is still ongoing and is expected to be completed this year after a 20-year standstill.

In this video image taken from NTV Japan via APTN, smoke raises from Fukushima Daiichi

Japan's nuclear problems focus on the Fukushima Daiichi power plant

The Embalse power plant, located near the city of the same name in Cordoba province, was the country's second nuclear facility and is South America largest thermal nuclear plant.

The three plants are administered by Nucleoelectrica Argentina S.A. and deliver 6.2 percent of the country's power. This proportion is likely to grow in coming years following an announcement in December that US company Westinghouse would build Argentina's fourth nuclear power station, Atucha III.

'Brazil must pause to think'

In South America's largest country, Brazil, some 3.1 percent of energy demand is met with nuclear power. Brazil has two stations in operation, while construction on a third has just been completed.

The Almirante Alvaro Alberto plant, otherwise known as Angra, is located by the beach at Itaorna in Angra dos Reis in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The Laguna Verde nuclear facility in Mexico

The Laguna Verde facility is Mexico's only nuclear plant

Angra I began generating energy in 1982, followed by Angra II in 2000. In June 2010, construction began on Angra III. The government in Brasilia has four more plants in the planning. However, Jose Arney, president of the Brazilian congress, said recently that in light of the disaster in Japan "the view on nuclear energy must be seriously reconsidered … we must pause to think."

Anti-nuclear Mexicans speak of big risk

Laguna Verde in Punta Limon, Veracruz, hosts Mexico's sole nuclear plant, delivering 4 percent of the electricity needs of the country of around 110 million. The station has two generators, which were installed in 1989 and 1995 respectively.

The plant is located on the Gulf of Mexico around 70 kilometers from Veracruz - a city of around half a million people - and has been the subject of intense protests by anti-nuclear activists.

The environmentalist group Madres Veracruzanas - the Mothers of Veracruz - argues that Laguna Verde has the same characteristics and cooling system as the damaged plant in Japan. "This would mean that a similar natural disaster could cause an identical catastrophe in Mexico," they have said.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez

Chavez has contracted Russia to build his country's first plant

Nuclear plans in Latin America

Though no other South American nations have nuclear power plants, several have them on the agenda.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama will visit Chile to discuss nuclear plans. However, as Chileans witness the emerging disaster in Japan and take into account the history of seismic activity in their own country, many are increasingly skeptical of nuclear power.

Chile has two small test reactors, located in La Reina and Lo Aquirre, which are used exclusively for research and medical purposes.

Venezuela, meanwhile, signed a deal with Russia in October for the construction of a nuclear power station but has since decided against pursuing nuclear power for now due to the crisis in Japan. President Hugo Chavez had been promoting nuclear power as a clean energy alternative.

Author: Valeria Risi, Lea Ferno / dfm
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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