Argentina reveals its nuclear new build plans

24 August 2021

Argentina is looking to double the size of its nuclear sector with new power reactors in deals with China and the "national" construction of a new Candu unit with Canadian support, José Luis Antúnez, the head of national utility Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA (NA-SA), said in an interview with Perfil newspaper. Construction of a Hualong One unit could begin at Atucha as soon as next year.

The Atucha plant site (Image: NA-SA)

Antúnez said that plans for a new reactor at Atucha would be the result of the rebooting of a partnership with China that was discussed between 2014 and 2017 but for which the relevant offers have expired. Intergovernmental negotiations would lead to a new "financial package", Antúnez said in the interview, after which "the authorities of both countries will sign and construction will begin, something we hope will happen in the middle of next year."

In the meantime NA-SA is "going to advance preparations on the ground" at Atucha, levelling ground and installing access roads for "more than 5000 workers" that will be involved.

Previous plans had China supporting NA-SA to construct a new pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) at Atucha, but Antúnez said it is now set to be a Hualong One pressurised water reactor.

Now, PHWR construction is seen as a "national project" said Antúnez, with Canada having some participation in support.

The site for the new Candu unit is not yet determined, Antúnez said, although it could be on or near the Atucha site. However, the bulk of engineering work will be carried out near the Embalse power plant by Argentine firms and workers drawing on their successful refurbishment and uprate of the Candu reactor there, which was completed in 2019 to enable the unit to operate for the next 30 years.

"We are going to have technicians and professionals from the Embalse area to produce the components, which will be many and from the national industry, that is, we are going to concentrate the resources that we have from the manufacturing and metalworking industry there," Antúnez said.

In the same spirit, Argentina plans to bring its Arroyito heavy water production plant back into operation to supply the new reactor as well as the existing fleet. The plant is jointly owned by the National Atomic Energy Commission (Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica, CNEA) and the regional government but was closed down by the previous national government, causing Nucleoeléctrica to import its needs of 25 tonnes per year.

Argentina's nuclear sector has three PHWRs with a total generating capacity of 1641 MWe across the Atucha I, Atucha II and Embalse power plants. In total the plans revealed by Antúnez represent a doubling of that power generating capacity.

Atucha is also the site of Argentina's prototype 25 MWe CAREM power plant, which is owned by CNEA and being constructed by NA-SA.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News