Industriás Nucleares do Brasil (INB) has been issued a temporary licence by the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) to start enriching uranium on an industrial scale at its Resende plant.
INB has held an environmental licence to enrich uranium since November 2006, but the plant's operating permit, which is valid for one year, has been now been amended by the CNEN. Production of enriched uranium is expected to begin in February, with some 12 tonnes of enriched uranium expected to be produced by the end of 2009.
The ultra-centrifugation enrichment technology used at the plant was developed by the Naval Technology Centre in Sao Paulo (CTMSP) and the Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research (IPEN). However, the technology is similar to Urenco's technology.
The Resende plant currently has two cascades of centrifuges. It is planned that a further eight cascades are installed by 2012. By that time, INB is expected to be able to produce all the enriched uranium used in the Angra 1 reactor and 20% of that used in Angra 2. Those are the country's only operating power units at the moment, although plans to complete Angra 3 are advancing and many more reactors are expected in time.
Up until now, uranium used to fuel Brazil's nuclear power reactors has been sent as uranium concentrate to Cameco in Canada to be converted into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, which has then been sent to Urenco's enrichment plants in Europe. After enrichment, the gas has been returned to Brazil for INB to reconvert the UF6 gas to powder, which is then used to produce nuclear fuel pellets.
According to Samuel Fayad Filho, INB's director of production, 'The big breakthrough is that in future we do not depend on external services for an important technology.' He added that domestic production of enriched uranium would save Brazil some $25 million, the equivalent of how much the country spends to have its uranium enriched overseas.
Filho said that INB will request authorization from CNEN for permanent operation of the Resende plant after tests demonstrate that the enrichment technology works. He added that there are plans to raise enrichment capacity by 2015, including the construction of capacity to supply the planned Angra 3 unit.
The first cascade at the Resende plant commenced operation in 2006 and the second was expected to do so in 2008. Stage 1 - eventually to be four modules totalling 115,000 SWU per year and costing $170 million - was officially opened in 2006. Each module consists of four or five cascades of 5000-6000 SWU per year. Stage 2 will take capacity to 200,000 SWU.
INB's fuel fabrication plant, designed by Siemens, is also at Resende, with capacity of 160 tonnes per year pellet production and 280 tonnes per year fuel assembly production.