Unease over nuclear plants in paradise: An 'accident' at a Brazilian reactor is worrying environmentalists. Phil Davison reports

IN THE Angra Lanchonete (lunch- bar) opposite the bustling harbour of this ragged Brazilian fishing village, the topic of the nearby nuclear power plant is sensitive, almost a taboo. The locals are aware that something is amiss, but the plant provides work for hundreds of people and a better living, indirectly, for thousands more. The passer-by who questions the nuclear plant's safety might just as well raise doubts over the fidelity of the lunch-bar's customers' wives.

An unexplained 'accident' last month at Brazil's only completed nuclear reactor, known as Angra-1, caused a mystery rise in radiation levels within the plant and forced its indefinite closure. Officials said the problem was in the core of the reactor, where uranium is stored, but that there was no leak of radiation beyond the plant. Environmentalists say there may be cracks in the reactor's primary container system - raising fears of a Chernobyl-style disaster - and that the plant should be shut down for good.

Even the slightest radioactive leak could be devastating. For reasons that no one, including plant officials, can explain, Angra-1, and a new reactor, Angra-2, still being built, are tucked in a picturesque cove in the heart of Brazil's 'Green Coast,' an up-market tourist paradise of golf courses and country clubs halfway between Brazil's two biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

'It certainly was a pretty weird place to put a nuclear reactor,' said Alan Poole, a independent energy consultant in Rio. 'It looks like cracks may have appeared in the pressure vessel. That's not good news for the nuclear industry. One of the main problems is that of emergency evacuation. It's an area where the mountains plunge directly down to the sea. There are only a few narrow exits. How on earth could they get people out of these villages quickly?'

Adding to the concern of environmentalists is the plant's position in an earthquake fault zone, located in a cove known by local Indians for centuries as Itaorna (the moving rock). It has been forced to shut down about 20 times since it opened for business in 1985. When on line, it is supposed to supply about 20 per cent of the country's electricity.

In December 1988, two earth tremors cracked house walls in the village and startled residents. The mayor declared a state of alert, but the operators of the plant, the state-owned electricity company, Furnas Centrais Electricas, said the 626-megawatt Angra-1 reactor had not been damaged. It has since been shut down many times for 'repairs'.

What upset Brazilian ecologists this time was that Furnas did not at first admit, in line with previous agreements, that there had been a problem at the plant on 5 March. 'They told the mayor (of Angra dos Reis) that the plant had closed for maintenance,' said Ruy de Goes, coordinator of Greenpeace's anti-nuclear campaign in Latin America. 'This is extremely serious. They lied to the population.

'Then a worker called us and said: 'This is no maintenance job, there is a problem with the fuel elements and there has been an increase in radiation. They are doing an inspection and cooling the reactor.'

'When I confronted the Brazilian national nuclear energy commission with this version, they confirmed it,' Mr de Goes said. The commission's superintendent, Airton Caubi, then told reporters the plant had been shut down because of an as yet unexplained 'accident'.

Furnas continued to insist the stoppage was routine although inspection had shown 'an abnormal increase in radiation in the primary circuit'.

'There was an accident,' said a nuclear expert, Professor Luis Pinguelli of the University of Rio de Janeiro. 'Radiation became too high in the primary loop. Furnas is studying whether there is a problem in the fuel elements. But there is another problem. The steam generator is made of a material called Inconel-600, which suffers an accelerated process of corrosion. That will have to be changed.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power