13 outubro 2012

Decision Process Regarding Nuclear Generation: The Brazilian Case

(Paper submitted to the 2009 International Nuclear Atlantic Conference - 2009 INAC)

Paulo Metri - Engineer


Countries face a constant need to expand their electricity generation capacities. Electricity sources in a country and the respective generation technologies have different technical, economic, environmental, social and political characteristics. The evaluation criteria of the generating sources and their technologies must not be restricted to the supply of the increased demand at the lowest cost. Compliance with other public policies must be considered in the decision process of the expansion, for instance, maximize local acquisition and minimize foreign fuel purchase. Countries have different energy resources, as well as different levels of technology and development in their industrial parks. Brazil has many mineral reserves, besides the hydraulic potential, for supporting the expansion. The decision process in this sector, which includes nuclear energy as a sub sector, requires analyzing and evaluating various information and data. In this stage, a quantitative model providing a first approach for the decision may be applied. The new institutional structure adopted in the sector during the 1990s and 2000s brought about new conditions into an already complex decision process. In such context of methodology complexity, political aspects gain relevance, becoming of increased importance. The political environment is described and the players are identified. One conclusion and few recommendations are provided.

1. Problem Definition

Countries must provide their populations with growing electrical power generation capacities, unless when their economies are undergoing a period of recession. However, Governments struggle to overcome recession periods, which, fortunately, do not last forever. According to the Brazilian electrical sector’s planning, the country would have to add generation capacities exceeding 3,000 MW per year, for a reasonable period, to comply with the growth rates presented prior to the global economic crisis. Decisions regarding nuclear energy are also based on this plan, which will be analyzed in the following pages.
Each country at each time has their own decision-making criteria to evaluate electricity generation increase options. Some criteria considered during the decision process are expressed by figures, though others may only be expressed in qualitative terms, turning the process subject to subjective evaluations. In articles, the technical performances of power generation options are mentioned as the most important points for the sector’s expansion decisions; however, this is not the only aspect of relevance. Economic, environmental and social impact, as well as the impact on other public policies, must also be considered.
In the economic aspect, the generation of large blocks of electrical energy is restricted today and in the near future to a few technological alternatives. These certainly include hydroelectric and thermal generation, whether by using natural gas, fuel oil, diesel oil, sugarcane bagasse, mineral coal or nuclear fuel. Some studies include aeolian generation among competitive electricity generation alternatives. Solar and tidal generations, for example, are still hopes for the future. Nuclear fusion will take long to prove technically and commercially viable.
Environmentalists claim that electrical energy must be preserved as the way to meet increased demand, as preserved energy is released to comply with new energy demands. However, this proposal must be analyzed, since there are two ways to preserve electricity. The first comprises the manufacture of more energy-efficient equipment, machines and apparatus, the design of buildings demanding less internal lighting and refrigeration, urban planning preventing against the construction of increasingly taller buildings with higher needs for elevators, water pumping, etc. These measures may be applied immediately, if they have not yet been, but have limited capacity for energy saving.
The second way requires a change in the behavior of the society and demand more time to bring about significant effects. It comprises, for instance, encouraging migration to the countryside, for each urban resident consumes four to five times as much electricity as countryside resident. In the same line, environmentalists blame society for wasting, since goods are designed to have limited lifetimes, to maximize profit, rather than to preserve natural resources and minimize waste disposal. Such allegations are true, and we must start now to work for a more energy saving and less polluting society; however, this demands touching existing privileges. Therefore, the wasting model will remain for quite some time.
In the Brazilian case, there is an aspect affecting electrical power needs, which is the fact that energy consumption is as badly distributed in the society as income. Therefore, should income distribution improvements hold, they will bring about one more factor increasing energy consumption, offsetting savings generated by preservation measures.
Investments in thermal generation plants, including nuclear, tends to be constant, upon determination of the technology and generation capacity. On the other hand, investments in hydroelectric plants will be different for each hydraulic exploitation, due to different terrains, demanding different needs for dams, as well as distinct river flows and water pressures demanding distinct projects. If we are going to compare generation units, under an economic point of view, it must be assumed that the alternatives will place the energy generated close to consumption centers, thus demanding the addition of complementary investments in energy transmission in the case of hydroelectric generation, since the remaining hydraulic potential is located far from such centers.
Furthermore, the useful life of civil works and equipment of the different generation alternatives are distinct. In thermal options, the future price of fuel, expected to grow above global inflation throughout the useful life of the plant, will influence their economic attractiveness. In view of those factors, technicians claim that the average cost of energy generated and placed in a consumption center, throughout the useful life, should be used as term of comparison, once it encompasses all data. Actually, the calculation of such cost does encompass most data regarding each alternative, though some, such as the possibility of complying with the daily load curve, is left out.
The discussion regarding the competitiveness in generating large block of electrical energy often does not consider the cost of mitigation of or prevention against environmental damage, caused, for example, by emission of greenhouse gases, sulfur and solid particles into the atmosphere, in the costs of the energy generated for comparison purposes. Should these costs be included, the competitiveness of thermal generation alternatives – except nucleoelectric – will be jeopardized. Thermal plants, when placed at tips of the electric system, increase its stability.
The definitive destination of waste from nucleoelectric generation is beginning to have a solution in the world, through different proposals. Furthermore, there is the unfounded fear that a nucleolectric plant may have an accident of large proportion, even though such is proven to be unlikely. These plants were designed to work at the base of the electric system, with little capacity to follow the daily load curve.
Hydroelectric plants also have greenhouse gas emissions, though much less than fossil-fuel thermal plants. The nuclear plants emit no greenhouse gas. On the other hand, hydroelectric plants flood farmable areas or forests and require relocation of riverside population. In some cases, they may flood villages, roads and accesses to mineral deposits and archaeological sites. Like fossil-fuel thermal plants, they may follow daily load curves, with a number of turbines connected to generators exceeding the need for generation of firm energy, aiming at increasing supply during daily peak hours. This super-motorization of the plant generates a low capacity factor. The operation of an electric system with a predominantly hydroelectric base, such as in Brazil, with reservoirs which may hold rain water for over a year, must consider the multiple use of water, the randomness of rainfall and the interference caused by the generation at one plant in generation plants downstream. To generate electricity today or to keep the water in the dam for generation tomorrow is not a simple decision and will be always present.
Aeolian mills are blamed for killing birds, besides supplying intermittent energy, for wind speed is not constant. This is also the case of photovoltaic cells, which depend on sunlight. In short, there is not one-generation alternative that stands out as the best among all, since all are subject to some level of criticism by specialists.
The criteria to evaluate generation technologies may be minimization of average cost of energy generated, maximization of local acquisition of goods and services during implementation, minimization of foreign fuel purchases during operation, maximization of the use of renewable sources, maximization of firm energy supply, capacity to follow daily load curves, maximization of employment generation, minimization of environmental impact, maximization of use of technology available in the country, maximum contribution for the stability of the electric system, possibility of geopolitical and strategic attraction for other countries, etc.
With this initial information regarding technological options for generation and evaluation criteria, the adoption of each technology to expand the country’s generation capacity may be easily supported, upon enhancing the positive impacts of the technology chosen. A set of judgment criteria favoring the option desired will be implicitly chosen. This will facilitate the work of lobbyists and impair the work of the honest decision-maker.
Each country has an availability of reserves of generation potentials and an industrial park, with a given technological level. Universities and research centers in each country have different capacity levels for development of technology. Countries have different policies regarding the use of local manpower and different level of environmental concern, expressed in their legislations and in concrete actions against environmental abuse. In view of all that, there is no optimal choice among technological options to supply the expansion of the generation capacity of any country.
In the Brazilian case, there are abundant energy reserves or electric generation potentials. According to the 2007 National Energy Balance, published by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the country held, as of 12/31/2006, 12.2 billion barrels of oil, 348 billion cubic meters of natural gas (both figures do not include the reserves of pré-sal), 70 GW firm of hydraulic energy remaining capacity, 309 thousand tones of Uranium, some portion of biomass energy (hard to assess, for sugarcane bagasse, the main biomass item for electricity generation, is associated to the production of sugar and ethanol), and 32 billion tones of mineral coal, plus unaccounted aeolian potential. Thus, the country will not suffer an electricity shortage for lack of generation sources.
The adoption by many countries of the world of economic liberalism and the consequent deregulation of their economies, which also occurred in Brazil, as from the 1990s, brought about institutional changes in the role of the State in the expansion model of the energy sector, i.e. the State ceased to determine the technologies to be used and the magnitude of such use, although it may still influence the choice through public bids and contracts to be signed. For such, the State would be constantly carrying out studies, aiming at ensuring such expansion is made in the interest of the society. However, it would be market agents who would build this new capacity to supply the expected growth in electricity demand.
Thus, the new role of the State consists, in many cases, of letting economic agents free to participate in bids with different technological options. Some of these bids may turn out unsuccessful, requiring that the State take another direction towards expansion. However, it is said that the inconvenience of this new philosophy implemented is exactly letting the market perform the investments at its discretion, for it may occur that no agent takes interest in a given choice of interest to the society, that is, the capital logic will not necessarily arrive to the same recommendation as the social logic. In theory, the State should, in these cases, create new incentives for the production despised to turn it into an attractive alternative for the market or invest directly in the production. In the case of the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric plants, a mixed solution was adopted, with investments made by a State company and a private company together. It is worth noting that the sector comprises highly qualified professionals, but who cannot and, maybe, do not want to become involved in political matters in the sector.
Some specialists advocate that decisions regarding the nuclear power generation sector in Brazil should remain in the hands of the State, which as per the law holds the monopoly existing since the beginning of the sector’s development, under the argument that this subsector requires long-term large investments and introduces some technologies with high impacts on the country’s level of technological development. More specifically, the isotropic enrichment of Uranium has a high level of technological difficulty and is also a sensitive technology, for it may serve peaceful or belicist purposes, such as electricity generation or the development of a nuclear weapon.
When some scholars talk about the Brazilian State, there is the impression that this is the entity controlling the Brazilian Nation, aiming at reaching superior targets for the development of our society towards maximum welfare and economic, technological, environmental and social development. As a utopia, the Brazilian State may represent such desire, though the sad reality is an entity dominated by groups of interests, especially domestic and foreign economic ones. The Brazilian society participates in elections, therefore expresses a partial opinion, though its potential wishes, those the society would have should the questions be really clarified, and even its conscious desires, are not transformed, in numerous cases, into targets for the country, the State and the Nation. In given situations, the market does certainly impose alternatives a free Brazilian society would not adopt.
In Brazil, except for investments in uranium mining and in the construction and operation of nuclear plants, recently requested by private enterprises, all investments in nucleolectric generation were never asked for. Assuming emerging economic sectors, actual bottlenecks for development, as private investors do not feel attracted to take part in their development, has been the policy successfully adopted by the Brazilian Government between de 1940s and the 1970s, in order to promote the expansion of many sectors within the country’s infrastructure, such as oil, steelmaking, hydroelectric energy generation and telecommunications.
Recent requests by the private enterprise should generate a lot of discussion. Doubts are already arising, such as whether private uranium mining should be destined for exportation, since domestic needs are already supplied by state-controlled enterprises. By becoming an exporter of uranium with no beneficiation, would Brazil not be assuming the position of a country destined to the exportation of primary products, therefore a loser in the world market?
Another doubt lies on the existing proposal towards the existence of private nucleolectric plants, subsidiary of foreign groups, importing the fuel material necessary for their operation.
Would Brazil, with the 6th largest uranium reserves in the world, likely to ascend in this position, import beneficiated uranium, with high added value? Thus, the proposal for nucleoelectric generation to stay out of the liberal opening of the economy, remaining in the hands of the State, is not unreasonable.
Another relevant factor for understanding the decisions taken regarding the nuclear sector is the fact that this is a sensitive technology, as mentioned earlier, which has a great global control apparatus aiming at its non-dissemination, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which controls nuclear developments in countries not yet holders of technology, basically developing countries, as well as the use of nuclear reactors using technology imported by these countries. Therefore, there is the world nuclear geopolitics, exercised basically by countries having nuclear weapons, in the sense that nations not yet holding this technology remain so. This instrument of control of nuclear technology dissemination also serves to create a market reserve regarding nuclear products for pacific purposes, estimated of being worth US$ 40 billion/year.
The change occurred in the activity of the State in the energy sector represents one more complicating factor for an already complex problem, though such change does not prevents against the continuance of the line of research regarding the sector’s decision process, especially because the State remains holding an inducing role. Since there is no technological option proving much superior to the others, by using the judgment criteria described, the concerns towards attracting private investments and as investments and revenues in the expansion of the electric system represent huge figures, there are favorable conditions for the influence of political aspects in the decisions regarding expansion alternatives be increased.
On the other hand, the political differential of the alternatives bears relevance in many of the public decisions occurred in various sectors where the State holds regulating power or is the producer itself.

2. Political Aspects in the Decision Process

In Brazil, the favorable political forces towards nucleoelectric expansion are domestic and foreign manufacturers of equipment for nuclear plants, the foreign supplier of nuclear technology, plant construction companies, Brazilian military who see the adoption of nuclear generation as a step towards the construction of nuclear-powered submarines, the group within Brazilian Diplomacy who sees as correct the conduction of a nuclear program with pacific purposes concerned with mastering the technology, the state apparatus in the sector, environmentalists who see the increased use of nuclear energy as a solution to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, some scholars and businesses who intend to become suppliers of nuclear products, should the state monopoly in the sector come to an end.
The forces against nuclear energy generation include civil constructors of large dams, domestic and foreign manufacturers of equipment for hydroelectric or thermal energy plants (natural gas, fuel oil, etc), representatives of foreign Governments which do not wish Brazil to have a nuclear-powered submarine, the part of the country’s Diplomacy favorable to a position more closely attached to that of developed countries, foreign groups producers of goods and services for the nuclear industry who do not wish to see Brazil become a global supplier, the state apparatus of hydraulic or thermal (fossil-fueled) generation, environmentalists who believe that increased nuclear generation would bring about increased chances of accidents, and some scholars.
It is worth noting that part of these groups of interest or political forces do not have financial motivations, whereas others have. The political forces mentioned are the groups of interest which, acting politically through claims and imposition, aim at obtaining benefits, whether by increased power, money or social benefits. At times, these forces seek political support among politicians in the office, though they are not the only holders of political power. These forces wish their positions to be accepted by the group of decision-makers, which sometimes, even for a decision as relevant as the expansion of the nuclear sector, does not involve a large number of people. Furthermore, the reasons behind the decisions taken are not always exposed in a transparent manner, and the documents supporting the decisions always regard technical argumentation, apparently logic, though not always impartial.
The accuracy of the process could be ensured by an informed society, which may occur only if such society has a satisfactory level of technical information and political awareness, as well as with the existence of means of communication truly democratic and interested in promoting informative, constructive debate. Anyway, decision-makers, whether socially committed or not, seek not to confront the public opinion, should one exist, which may be a consequence of manipulation by groups of interest. On the other hand, decisions based on popular approval will be irrefutable in the short and midterms.
Thus, those bearing interest in a given decision, arrange the publication of paid articles, encourage lectures, congresses with carefully chosen specialists presenting opinions of interest to the sponsors, in short, our society is bombarded with camouflaged propaganda through various types of media. As the ordinary citizen does not have the technical, economic, environmental (among others) knowledge to make a sound judgment of the arguments, and the messages it receives are actual marketing pieces, this citizen becomes then an advocate of the decision which suits best its values, or refrains from taking a position.
It is worth noting that these various lobbying activities are not unethical, under a legal standpoint, for there is the understanding that, in advertising, one may omit the flaws of its own product. One may not provide untrue information regarding the positive aspects of it, nor regarding the negative aspects of third parties’ products.
Therefore, the complex technical, economic, environmental and social settings of the electricity expansion alternatives, which must be judged under relevant criteria, many of which may not be quantified, added to lobbyists’ activities, to the lack of constructive, democratic mass communications, and to the governmental decision-making process inaccessible to the ordinary citizen, result in a situation where a rather small number of decision-makers, under strong influence by groups of interest, defines the future of the Brazilian energy sector, and consequently, the country’s nuclear sector as well.
This work seeks, exhaustively, to present the complexity in the decisions towards the expansion of Brazil’s generating park, the social responsibility required by such decisions, the fierce dispute for the appropriation of the sector’s exceeding output, the strong interests involved in the decisions and, in the case of nuclear energy, the struggle for power through the possession of its technology. It is expected that the reader, from now on, recognize the traps in articles with argumentation focused in a few points, clearly aiming at enhancing a given source of generation and with a restricted scope of analysis.
As the government in any country will be, despite the popular vote, a representation of dominating political forces, which may not reflect the force of the people, the hypothesis of the government undertaking, in the Brazilian case, the task of straightening out this complex political issue does not exist. This is because Brazil’s weak representative democracy does not offer mechanisms for a judgment socially committed for proposals regarding infrastructure sectors, even when the proposal has a strong social impact. Only a highly conscious and wellinformed population, strongly claiming their rights, could offset the pressures by forces acting on decision-makers in the electrical and nuclear sector with particular interests.
This paper does not propose an authoritative alternative, not only for it may also be biased and do not necessarily improve the decision process, but also because it contributes for the increase of political unawareness of the society. The practice of successive elections, without suppressing responsibility and the people’s right to present their claims is key to the development of political awareness in our society.
Despite these analysis are being presented now, they do not refer specifically to the present Government, but to all Brazilian Governments of the last 40 years. Besides this fact, we recognize that the nuclear decision is one of hundreds of relevant ones that Governments had to take.

3. Conclusion and Recommendations

Considering that (i) the representatives of the people often do not act as such, (ii) details of the electrical and nuclear sector are normally not included in the programs of Presidential candidates, and also of candidates running for other positions, (iii) in the Brazilian culture, the programs of winning candidates do not necessarily have to be fulfilled, (iv) there is no tradition of frequent direct consultation to the society in relevant issues, (v) foreign, economic and power-related interests involved are considerable, (vi) the civil society does not have a significant number of entities overlooking decisions important to the society, (vii) there is no media unrelated to groups of capital, (viii) the strong dependence of government leaders on the economic power sponsoring their campaigns, and (ix) in the absence of hopes of fast awareness of the society, decision-makers enjoy full freedom to follow in the direction indicated by the most active forces. The less politically aware and conscious a population is, the easier it will be to approve programs of interest to the dominant political forces, with little importance given to the program’s merits or demerits.
Actions could be proposed to improve the levels of education, information and political awareness of the people, but such qualities are important for the country to have better citizens. Therefore, they would not acquire such characteristics only to be able to make better decisions regarding the electrical sector, though this would be a consequence. It is obvious that our society needs to improve political awareness, and in this regard, educational and cultural development is necessary, though not enough. Exposition to political matters, their discussion and the improvement in perception through reading and lectures, schooling, etc. are the only antidotes against political alienation.
One recommendation, aiming at increasing the responsibility of the society in the decisionmaking process, is the inclusion of aspects regarding the alternatives for electricity generation in secondary education (High School), possibly in Science classes. State organs in the energy sector should increase the number of public hearings – currently few and far from where the population is, for these often provide excellent opportunities of discussion between State representatives and the people. However, these hearings must be for the public in general or for the segments to be affected by the measures at issue. They should not be like some hearings, so-called public, hold by Congress Commissions, where only representatives of the economic power get invited.
A Referendum is an option, but the execution is difficult, for instance, there are so many issues to be addressed and so many judgment criteria that the people would have to answer, forming a considerable number of questions. It is not guaranteed either that pre-vote television campaigns would suffice to clarify such a complex subject.
Concluding, a better mass communication system will be necessary if we wish to have a more representative democracy in our country. It is not possible to achieve a public discussion in the society if this discussion is promoted by groups of interest.


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