12 February 2014

Construction Start of Small Modular Reactor in Argentina

Construction of the CAREM-25 (Central ARgentina de Elementos Modulares) nuclear reactor began 8 February 2014 with the pouring of concrete for the base slab. After repeated delays, the 27 MWe small modular pressurized water reactor, is being built at a site next to the Atucha nuclear power plant in Lima, 110 km northwest of Buenos Aires. The reactor has been developed by the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) and its high technology spin off company INVAP. According to the CNEA, the reactor project cost will be ARS3.5 billion ($446 million) – and is scheduled to begin cold testing in 2016 and receive its first fuel load in the second half of 2017.

The reactor’s proximity to the border of Paraguay and lack of notification by the Argentine government led the government in Asuncion to protest to the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2013.

While promoted as a Generation IIII reactor, it has been under development for more than three decades. Originally developed by German company Siemens in the 1970’s, INVAP subsequently developed the reactor with the aim of it being suitable for use in Argentina’s German supplied TR-1700 submarines. The project was formally abandoned in the 1980’s following the end of military dictatorship in Argentina. However in 2010 the Argentine defense minister announced that nuclear submarine propulsion would once again be pursued, with INVAP playing a central role with construction of the CAREM-25 being the basis for future military application. Development of nuclear powered submarines is not prohibited under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A formal agreement between Argentina and Turkey in 1990 to develop the CAREM-25 reactor, was abandoned one year later by the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEA) due to doubts over its ability to supply electricity. But the decision was also prompted by nuclear proliferation concerns. Following pressure from the United States it was explained by the Director of the TAEA that “CAREM-25 was too small for electricity generation and too big for research or training, however, very suitable for plutonium production” and thus a proliferation concern.