Promising a shake-up of Brazil’s policies, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro won the nation’s presidential elections in October 2018. A staunch supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, from whose playbook he borrowed extensively on his rise to power, Bolsonaro unveiled plans for an ambitious transformation of the country’s nuclear policy.

Some seeds for change had been planted before he came to power, as an official working group set up by his predecessor drafted new principles and guidelines to govern the country’s nuclear sector,1 but Bolsonaro’s administration doubled down on implementing a fast-paced reform from the outset. In the last eight months alone, the president began to open up the nuclear sector to private investment, substituted old tenets of nuclear diplomacy for new ones, and restated ambitious plans to acquire additional capabilities. Over the next decade, Brazil aims to launch a nuclear-powered submarine, produce naval nuclear fuel, explore new uranium mines, construct a third nuclear power plant, expand uranium-enrichment capacity, and launch a new research reactor.

Togzhan Kassenova
Kassenova is a nonresident fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment.

The Brazilian government is undergoing a massive program of fiscal adjustment to curb public spending, so the administration reasons that if it is to maintain and extend its nuclear capabilities, it needs to invite private investment into a field that has traditionally relied on public funds alone.

To achieve these nuclear ambitions, not only will Brazil require an updated regulatory framework capable of unlocking public-private partnerships, but also one that responds to growing demands for strengthened nuclear safety and security, and improving oversight to curb the risk of political corruption and embezzlement.

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The full version of this article was published in the September 2019 edition of Arms Control Today.