Ep 242: Carlos Freire Moreira - CEO , Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB)
From the Brazilian Navy to the Energy Sector (0:12)
0:12-11:41 (Carlos Freire Moreira reflects on his time in the Brazilian Navy and how the civilian industry adapted Naval technology in the energy sector)
Q: You are the President of Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB), which plays a large role in fueling the future of nuclear energy.
A: Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) is in charge of the full fuel cycle of uranium, including mining, enrichment, conversion, and the making of pellets and assemblies. The Navy developed the whole fuel cycle for the design and construction of nuclear submarines. In the past, they understood it was very important to have knowledge about the whole fuel cycle and INB gets this knowledge, mainly regarding enrichment. Carlos Freire Moreira started in the Navy in 1973 in the Naval College, followed by the Naval Academy. He became a naval engineer in the Escola Politécnica of the University of São Paulo, leading to a career in maintenance, design, and construction of submarines and subsurface ships. Carlos was first exposed to nuclear in the Naval Academy and later during his Master’s degree in France where he studied nuclear propulsion. After retiring from the Navy, he served as the director for the enrichment part of INB from 2005-2008.
The development of the enrichment cycle was developed over a long period in Brazil. The main point of the centrifuge process, which was developed by the Navy, is that the centrifuge is based on the rotation and the different weight of the uranium-235 and uranium-238. There is no mechanical contacts, but instead float using electromagnetic forces. The development of the enrichment plant was very difficult and failed many times. From time to time, the rotation and length would be increased, causing problems because the rotation was very high. If anything is misaligned or the energy varies, it can cause failure. A cascade is a configuration in which all the centrifuges are put in a sequence and the higher enriched uranium is passed into the next line of centrifuges, similar to a cascading effect.
In 2008, Carlos left the Navy to enter the employee market and pursue other opportunities. He became an advisor for Thales, a French company, for the Navy program. Carlos had to get approval from the Brazilian Navy to work with Thales.
Brazil’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle (11:41)
11:41-19:41 (Carlos gives an in depth look at INB’s goals of developing all levels of the uranium fuel cycle)
Q: When did you join Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB)?
A: Carlos Freire Moreira first worked for Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) while he was in the Navy. People in INB were always attached to the development and interest of the Navy. This made it much easier to discuss and follow projects. One Brazilian company, NUCLEP, makes heavy industrial vessels and pressure hulls for Navy submarines. In 2014, Carlos finished his job in Itaguaí Construções Navais and was also acting as an advisor for the wind and solar sectors of renewable energies in the Northeast region of Brazil. Carlos accepted an invitation to lead INB in February of this year. He tried to change and improve some sectors of the country, mainly trying to push ahead the mining of uranium. Mining stopped in 2015, but Carlos hopes to restore production of uranium in the country by the end of the year by working closely with the regulator. Two-thirds of the country is still to be explored for mining. Uranium is often found with other metals like gold or phosphate. INB has a monopoly of the reserves where uranium is the biggest value mineral and cannot be explored by private companies. There are plans to try to make this process more flexible. In Phase 1 of this change, private companies can make investments where INB does not have enough money. In Phase 2, there would be enough production that it can be offered out for mining.
Energy Sector Balancing with Nuclear (19:41)
19:41-31:11 (How different applications for uranium and the state of other energy resources all lead back towards more nuclear energy)
Q: Do you see a new generation of reactors coming online that are going to increase the worldwide demand for all parts of the uranium fuel cycle?
A: Carlos Freire Moreira sees people throughout the world understand that they must have a strong energy base that includes nuclear. Other uses for the uranium, such as medical applications and food preservation, are rising in demand. The nuclear power plants will provide production of secure energy, because other types of plants, like hydro, rely on resources such as rain whose patterns are changing with climate change. Germany decided to stop the production of nuclear power plants and are now talking about increasing the use of electric cars.
Carlos is from Fortaleza in the Northeast region of Brazil. Other states in the region have large wind and solar production, but there are some days which don’t have enough wind or sun and only low levels of energy is produced. Nuclear in Brazil produces around 2% of the country’s energy. The ability to increase nuclear capacity is limited by investments. A nuclear power plant like Angra costs around $25 billion. Brazil is trying to use all energy sources. Some wind generators are around 4-5 gigawatts. To have this size solar plant, 10,000 square meters would be required to produce the same amount of energy. One thing that increases the cost of nuclear power plants is the regulations and the control of all the activities. The problem of how to store the waste is also very important. Brazil’s security for the workers and environment is more strict than in the U.S. There was a big problem when INB went to get the license for the first cascade because they tried to use the regulations from nuclear in the enrichment plant. The quantity of uranium in a reactor compared to a big cascade enrichment plant is much, much smaller. The regulator was flexible in their evaluation of this enrichment plant.
Regulations in Different Phases of the Fuel Cycle (31:11)
31:11-38:13 (Carlos reviews current work within Brazil on how to focus regulations and diversify the country)
Q: Are there similar conversations in Brazil about making the regulator more flexible to make development easier?
A: Yes, Brazil is having conversations about making regulations more flexible. One working group looks at problems such as regulations for enrichment plants, waste storage, and communication. Demands are analyzed to determine whether they are or are not necessary. The goal is not to make regulations more flexible, but instead to follow the rules that are necessary. When Carlos Freire Moreira first arrived at INB, he thought the importance of nuclear energy was to provide energy closer to the final user. While nuclear provides 2% of the country’s electricity, Angra 1 and Angra 2 provide close to 30% of electricity for Rio de Janeiro alone. When the plants were built, the utilized existing transmission infrastructure with only a few new kilometers of connections. There is some part of the country that are not integrated and the forests make it very difficult to connect. Nowadays, Carlos is very happy to see how nuclear energy can be used in the medical scene, for advanced exams, and also for food preservation, along with many other applications. The nuclear branch has become more important, not only for energy production. Small modular reactors (SMR) can provide energy to villages far from the big reactors. The nuclear branch is important for all of these applications.