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28 Mar, 2024 08:09

Macron makes nuclear offer to BRICS nation

Brazil is developing its own nuclear-powered submarine based on a French design
Macron makes nuclear offer to BRICS nation

French President Emmanuel Macron has offered to help Brazil with the development of a nuclear-powered submarine during an official visit to the South American country.

Macron was speaking at a launch ceremony on Wednesday, hosted by his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for Brazil’s third Riachuelo class diesel-electric submarine, which is based on the French Scorpene class.

“I want us to open the chapter for new submarines,” moving towards nuclear propulsion “while being perfectly respectful of all non-proliferation commitments,” Macron said, adding: “you want it, France will be at your side.”

Brazil’s Submarine Development Program (PROSUB) was laid out in 2008, after a security pact between Lula and then-President Nicolas Sarkozy led to plans to modernize Brazil’s navy. The fifth vessel of the program, the Alvaro Alberto, is planned to be nuclear-powered.

With an enormous coastline, and 95% of its imports and 90% of its national supplies of oil coming from the sea, PROSUB was set up to defend Brazil’s strategic resources, while developing the country’s shipbuilding and providing thousands of jobs.

French defense company Naval Group has provided support in designing modifications to the hull to fit a nuclear reactor – but Paris has been hesitant to provide Brasilia nuclear propulsion technology due to fears of breaking non-proliferation commitments.

Thus far, only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, the US, UK, China, and France – and India, possess nuclear-powered submarines. Brazil is a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), but its norms do not technically prohibit it from building its own naval nuclear reactors and enriching its own uranium to fuel it.

Brazil’s peaceful atomic energy program is entirely homegrown, with a full cycle of uranium fuel enrichment and two nuclear power stations. The design of the nuclear boiler for the prospective vessel has also so far been completely Brazilian.

China has raised fears that the NPT could be compromised after the US and UK announced the trilateral AUKUS security pact with Australia in 2021, along with the sale of three US nuclear subs and the transfer of US nuclear technology.

Beijing has warned that the AUKUS pact undermines the NPT, noting that it marks a dangerous precedent of handing over nuclear propulsion reactors and large-amounts of weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear weapon state. It has expressed concern that there is no guarantee that Australia could not divert the uranium to build nuclear weapons.