Argentina celebrates enrichment plant reactivation

26 October 2010

Argentina has formally reactivated its gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plant at Pilcaniyeu over two decades after production there halted. The plant is expected to become operational in September 2011. 


Cristina Fernandez and workers at Pilcaniyeu (CNEA)
President Cristina Fernandez celebrates with workers at the Pilcaniyeu plant (Image: CNEA)
The official restart was marked by a visit by Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez, as well as high-level representatives from the Argentinian government and nuclear industry including Federal planning minister Julio De Vido and president of the country's National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) Norma Boero.

Plans to recommission the Pilcanyeu plant, which operated from 1983 to 1989, were announced in 2006 and form part of Argentina's ambition to build a self-sufficient nuclear fuel cycle. Work has been underway to refurbish and upgrade the plant, which uses gaseous diffusion, using Argentina's own technology. The first stage of the refurbishment has involved the construction of an advanced prototype of 20 diffusers, and the plant is expected to be able to produce its first enriched uranium for nuclear fuel use by September 2011 according to the CNEA.

President Fernandez said that in reactivating the plant, Argentina was recovering lost time. She described uranium enrichment as "a right that we should never have resigned." The project was "a source of great pride" for the country, she said.

The original Pilcaniyeu plant had a modest enrichment capacity of 20,000 SWU per year, although plans call for the upgraded plant ultimately to reach a capacity of some 3 million SWU. Its reinstatement secures Argentina's spot among the countries that can carry out the enrichment process, which is needed to increase the level of fissile uranium-235 for use in nuclear fuel. Unlike Argentina, other countries involved in building new enrichment capacity are focusing on the gas centrifuge process, which is far more energy-efficient.

Argentina currently has two operating nuclear reactors, at Embalse and Atucha. The reactivation of Pilcaniyeu is part of an Argentinian nuclear energy policy that has also seen the resumption of work on the partially built Atucha II pressurised heavy water reactor, due to go online in 2011, with plans for a third reactor at the site to follow. To that end, Argentina has been pursuing contacts with likely reactor suppliers over recent months, signing a memorandum of understanding with South Korea in September and a cooperation agreement with Russia in April 2010. Talks have also been held with China about the possibility of building a second unit at Embalse.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News