Pro-nuclear military officer to head Brazil’s energy ministry

Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has picked the head of the country’s nuclear submarine programme to run its Mines and Energy Ministry.

Squadron admiral Bento Costa Lima Leite de Albuquerque will officially be sworn in on 1 January when the new government assumes control and he will replace outgoing minister Moreira Franco.

The nomination took the energy sector by surprise, with discussions focusing on alternative candidates.

Albuquerque is the twentieth nomination to Bolsonaro’s cabinet and the fourth member of the armed forces that he has named. Bolsonaro himself is a retired army captain.

A defender of Brazil’s nuclear programme, Albuquerque is little known in the energy community.

“We have a paradox: Brazil has the seventh largest uranium reserve in the world but has only 2.2% of its power supplied by nuclear plants. If our energy mix were nuclear, we could supply power in the country for the next 100 years,” he was quoted as saying by the Brazilian Engineering Club during an event this year.

Started in the 1970s under Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship, the nuclear programme aimed to develop the country’s own nuclear submarine.

In the 1980s the government-controlled power company Eletronuclear inaugurated the first of two nuclear plants. A third, the 1.4GW Angra 3, is currently under construction.

Although nuclear power has always been debated as an option to complement its hydro-thermal energy mix, Brazil’s current 10-year energy development plant (PDE 2026) places the country’s nuclear capacity at 3.4GW by 2026 – a tenth of the wind capacity projected for the same year.

Aside from promoting nuclear power, 60-year-old Albuquerque has aired firm views on local content and the need to retain control of technology development.

During the campaign, Bolsonaro and his aides spoke little about energy policies. In his programme, Bolsonaro mentioned the continuation of wind and solar projects in the north-eastern region, the restart of programmes to build large hydro-dams in the Amazon region and the idea of mining rare-earth minerals known to be present in the Amazon forest area.

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In terms of environmental policies, Bolsonaro has said he will simplify and speed up environmental licensing, stop demarcation of natural or indigenous reserves and has criticised the Paris agreement, signalling an intention to abandon it.

In a controversial move he said that he would fuse the environmental ministry with the agriculture ministry, but has since reversed that decision and said he would not abandon the Paris agreement after he was heavily criticised.

But on the flip side, he has named Ernesto Araújo as foreign relations minister, a lower ranking career diplomat who has aired views that Climate Change is an “invention by Cultural Marxists”.

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