Ep 243: Celso Cunha - President, Brazilian Association of Nuclear Energy (ABEN)
Brazil’s Government and Private Sector Roles in Nuclear (0:26)
0:26-8:57 (Celso Cunha recounts his career working with Brazilian governments and private companies and how it led to his leadership at ABDAN)
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: Celso Cunha is an electrical engineer who worked with a subway company for a while before pursuing his Master’s and PhD degrees in applied mathematics. His focus was on optimization of systems in general. Celso worked for the government for many years on all different levels, including the municipality, state, and federal levels. Five years ago, Celso left the government and became Commercial Director of NUCLEP, a company that manufactures heavy, technological components. The nuclear area in Brazil has a lot of federally-owned companies, but the government is working to change the law to bring private companies closer to the industry. Initially, the government had the idea to control everything in the nuclear industry, but time has shown that it is impossible to do that and private companies are needed.
ABDAN (Brazilian Association for the Development of Nuclear Activities) is a group comprised of all the Brazilian companies related to nuclear. After working at NUCLEP for two years, he was asked to become the vice president. Celso worked a lot with the governments and private companies, gaining skills in relations with both, and was later asked to step in as president. One of his successful projects was building a university from the ground up with all money coming from private companies. Celso is also known for putting energy in new areas. Celso prides himself on always finishing 100% of his projects, all with private money in the public area. The nuclear sector nowadays doesn’t only deal with nuclear power plants, but also in the medical sector. A new group was started to oversee the medicine in nuclear and is growing new companies very quickly. Another government working group getting started is the communications group.
Brazilian Association for the Development of Nuclear Activities (8:57)
8:57-19:28 (Celso explains the role of ABDAN in Brazil’s nuclear space and how it connects with the industry side of nuclear activities)
Q: What are the main goals of ABDAN?
A: ABDAN (Brazilian Association for the Development of Nuclear Activities) focuses on the economic area in Brazil. There are ten associations that work in the Brazilian nuclear sector, but only ABDAN works with industry, while other associations work with academia or doctors. In the last three and a half years, ABDAN has elevated to a higher level of association. At a gala lunch, ABDAN presents four medals to people who made a difference in the sector. This year, three government ministers committed to involvement in ABDAN, as well as CEO’s of many different companies. These companies include Westinghouse, Framatome, and Brazilian companies that work in areas anywhere from submarine system controls to security and defense. Right now, approximately 60% of a nuclear reactor project could be built in Brazil. In all the parts of construction, the large components of the power plant can be made by NUCLEP and other companies can make parts of these components. Brazil also has companies that make parts related to safety and security, but have lost a lot of companies in this area in the last ten years. If there are three new power plants being constructed, Brazil could supply up to 85% of the components. The Energy Ministry aims to start building two new nuclear power plants within the next three years. The uranium mining market is going to be re-opened, via INB and private companies, to supply these new power plants. Brazil has one of the most abundant uranium repositories in the world.
In one area of study, Brazil had enough uranium to supply 13 new nuclear power plants for 256 years. This abundance provides an opportunity for Brazil to provide uranium internationally. In the Brazilian state Ceará, the Santa Quitéria reserve has 20% uranium and 80% potassium. Potassium is used in other industries and is currently being imported into Brazil.
Innovation in Brazil’s Nuclear Sector (19:28)
19:28-29:56 (An inside look at how Brazil is driving innovation in the regulation, development, and financing of nuclear around the country)
Q: Is the industry looking to make nuclear power plants smaller, moving towards the model of manufacturing small modular reactors?
A: Brazil has the rainforest that has limited nuclear development so far. This is a very good problem to solve with small reactors. Another problem is in the Northwest of Brazil where it is very dry and a small desalination reactor could be built, providing water and energy to the area. It is very difficult to build new hydroelectric plants in Brazil because the best sites are already built. New sites would have to be built inside the Amazon, which is very difficult. In Brazil, the electrical systems are connected and managed by one company.
Regulations are the limiting factor in nuclear development. Many people in the regulator are starting to retire and new people are coming in, but a strong group is needed. Earlier this year, the government decided to separate the regulator from CNEN (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear), which, in the past, has been a large group involved in research and industry as well as regulations. Another very important project is the RMB (Brazilian Multipurpose Reactor), which will produce more molybdenum for medical purposes. At this moment, Brazil imports all the molybdenum, so it is important to produce within the country. It will take six years to get more molybdenum in the market.
Brazil also works closely with Argentina in the nuclear space. Brazil plans to host a very big business meeting in Rio de Janeiro to collaborate with small start-ups and the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). The idea is to have a transmission with NEI at the end of this year for all the companies in the United States to have opportunities in Brazil. Brazil is showing that they are opening their market to private companies, not only from the U.S., but other countries around the world. Now is the time to come to Brazil.