The fate of Heavy Water production in Argentina

The fate of Heavy Water production in Argentina

Heavy water ran out of customers. The crisis at the Arroyito plant added a new frustration. The Minister of Energy, Alejandro Monteiro, admitted the lack of markets for production.

The government buried the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant  (Atucha III).

The production of heavy water from Arroyito does not make sense without the fourth nuclear power plant. This product does not have any other type of demand, since the nuclear power plants that are currently being built in the world do not use the technology that requires heavy water in the generation process.

Given the situation and the decisions taken by the national government, the PIAP only has the possibility of producing heavy water for the stock of the three nuclear power plants in our country that use technology with natural uranium as fuel.

However the demand between the three plants does not justify the production costs, so it does not make sense from the economic point of view to maintain the plant only for that purpose.

The PIAP has been going through a deep crisis for years, but the concrete possibility of building a new nuclear plant with heavy water gave it another life. In that case, it had a long productive path to meet the needs of a plant under construction. Once this type of equipment is underway, such as the one used by Atucha I and II and the Embalse plant, the requirement for heavy water is minimal.

“The construction of the fourth nuclear power plant is already cancelled, so there is no more demand for heavy water in our country and internationally, either. The truth is that there is no demand for that product, “the minister dramatically described.

The presidential management of Mauricio Macri froze the agreement with China and stopped the works that had begun in the premises of Atucha I and II, in Lima, province of Buenos Aires, where the fourth plant was supposed to be located. Then the negotiations were revived until Macri held a meeting with the chairman of the CNNC Board, Wang Shoujun, the largest public company in China’s nuclear industry, in May last year.

Both sides agreed to move forward with the construction of the fourth and fifth nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, the PIAP paid the salaries with a subsidy granted by the Nation. Those funds arrived in 2016 with the warning that they would be the last contributed by the State.

The government of Neuquén is assessing the production of urea and ammonia in the plant. However, this output requires a lot of money and time, as well as clashing with a strategic issue: Bahía Blanca has a greater feasibility for these products.

“We have had meetings with the people of the national government and with some operating companies, looking for an alternative. The output today is the production of urea or ammonia, which is a project similar to the one in Bahía Blanca, “said Energy Minister Alejandro Monteiro.

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Arnaud Lefevre

Arnaud Lefevre is the Chief Executive Officer of Dynatom International. Arnaud is in charge of the international development of the business portfolio.