A leading nuclear scientist said Brazilian military officials defied a presidential order and nearly finished building an atomic bomb even after the program was officially scrapped in 1985.
JosÃ© Luiz Santana, the former president of Brazil’s National Nuclear Energy Commission, or CNEN, said in a televised interview late Sunday that many components for an atomic bomb were manufactured in the early 1990s, after former President JosÃ© Sarney had deactivated the project during his 1985-1990 term.
Military officials even obtained a supply of enriched uranium to arm it, Santana told Globo TV, Brazil’s largest network.
“I took office in April 1990 . . . but it was only in August that CNEN managed to gain control of the container” of enriched uranium from the military, Santana told Globo.
He said proponents of the bomb planned a test explosion in September 1990 in a huge well dug into rock at a military base in the Cachimbo mountains, in the eastern Amazon.
Earlier this month, Sarney, who led Brazil’s first civilian government after a 1964-85 dictatorship, told Globo that the military tried to develop an atomic bomb, but that he ordered the program scrapped. The ruling generals were long suspected of trying to obtain nuclear weapons and Sarney’s comments confirmed that they were close to building a bomb.
Santana, however, said the military were still working on the bomb when former President Fernando Collor succeeded Sarney in 1990. Santana said it took him and his team seven months to discontinue the program and gain control over the enriched uranium.
He said the military had obtained enriched uranium from another country but declined to identify it. He also declined to name military officials behind the nuclear efforts.
A spokesman for the Science and Technology Ministry said they were preparing a statement on Santana’s remarks that would be issued later Monday afternoon.
In 2003, Brazil’s then-Science and Technology Minister Eduardo Campos sparked a controversy when he said Brazil should pursue “any form of scientific knowledge, whether the genome, DNA or nuclear fission.”
Many took the comment to mean Brazil intended to develop nuclear weapons. But the government strongly denied it, stressing that Brazil’s Constitution bans the use of nuclear energy for non-peaceful purposes.
Brazil’s nuclear program again stirred concern last year, when the government announced it was working to enrich its own uranium and refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect nuclear facilities in Resende, about 60 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
The government cited the need to protect industrial secrets. Eventually an agreement was reached allowing the inspections to go ahead with Brazil having to completely unveil its centrifuges.