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Viewing cable 09CARACAS26, VENEZUELAN SCIENTISTS SAY NUCLEAR ENERGY PROGRAM

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CARACAS26 2009-01-08 20:08 2010-11-30 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Caracas
VZCZCXRO2599
PP RUEHAO RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHMT RUEHNG
RUEHNL RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRG RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHCV #0026/01 0082024
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 082024Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2396
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 000026 

SIPDIS 

HQ SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD 
TREASURY FOR MMALLOY 
COMMERCE FOR 4431/MAC/WH/JLAO 
COMMERCE FOR SARAH LOPP 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/08/2018 
TAGS: ENRG TRGY BEXP BTIO PGOV PREL ETRD ECON PARM
EMIN, EINV, VE 
SUBJECT: VENEZUELAN SCIENTISTS SAY NUCLEAR ENERGY PROGRAM 
POLITICAL HOT AIR 

Classified By: Economic Counselor Darnall Steuart for reasons 1.4 
(b) and (d). 

1. (C) Summary: In late 2008, Chavez once again made 
statements regarding his plans to develop a nuclear power 
program in Venezuela and went so far as to sign an agreement 
with Russia's Rosatom on nuclear energy cooperation. Several 
local nuclear physicists are skeptical arguing that nothing 
came of the Venezuelan government's interest in nuclear power 
in the 70's and nothing will come of it today. The 
scientists argued the government has demonstrated little 
interest in domestic nuclear research and the result has been 
antiquated labs with only a handful of Venezuelan experts in 
the field. Nevertheless, they did not discount the Chavez 
Government's willingness to purchase a nuclear power plant 
lock, stock and barrel from Russia if it could get the 
financing, although they believe this unlikely given 
Venezuela's looming economic crisis. End Summary. 

--------------------------------------------- -- 
RUSSIAN CONSTRUCTION OF NUCLEAR PLANTS UNLIKELY 
--------------------------------------------- -- 

2. (C) In November 2008, Chavez trumpeted that he had high 
hopes for a nuclear reactor constructed with Russian 
technology in the Venezuelan state of Zulia to be called the 
"Huberto Fernandez Moran Nuclear Complex". On December 2, 
Econoffs met with three scientists from Venezuela's only 
fully functional nuclear physics research lab at public 
University Simon Bolivar (USB). XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly 
protect throughout,) noted Chavez' recent statements on 
nuclear power were reminiscent of those he made in 2005. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that if Russia would offer Venezuela 
enough credit for plant construction, Venezuela would be 
happy to accept. XXXXXXXXXXXX, who after the 
meeting identified himself as a Russian-educated scientist of 
Cuban origin, added that the Russians are fully capable of 
building adequate plants but they would take five to eight 
years to complete and would cost billions of dollars. (Note: 
Although the Director General of Rosatom State Nuclear 
Energy Corporation signed an agreement to cooperate with 
Venezuela on nuclear energy on November 26, international 
press reports on December 8 indicated no Russian loans or 
credits will be forthcoming for costly nuclear power projects 
in part due to Venezuela's uncertain financial future. End 
Note.) 

--------------------------------------------- -------- 
VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT NOT SERIOUS ABOUT NUCLEAR POWER 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 

3. (C) The second in command at the lab, XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect throughout,) said he has "heard this talk before in the 70's" when the government 
was much more serious about developing a nuclear power 
program and even went so far as to identify several potential 
sites for hypothetical reactors. XXXXXXXXXXXX was adamant that 
"nothing came of it then, and nothing will come of it now." 
There is only sporadic interest in nuclear power in 
Venezuela, which, he noted, is rational given that Venezuela 
is a petroleum rich state. 

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX added that behind every nuclear power 
project is a team of strong scientists. Unfortunately, he 
said, Venezuelan politicians are not talking to the 
scientists. He agreed that the current discussion of 
developing a domestic nuclear energy program in Venezuela is 
only talk, as there are no serious scientists involved and no 
project is underway. Even if the government of the 
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) were serious, he 
said, it would take 10 to 15 years to make substantial 
progress towards developing a nuclear energy program using 
domestic resources. 

5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that his lab at USB has the most 
domestic expertise and would be the most likely talent pool 
if the GBRV was in the market for government advisors or 
program heads. He added that the GBRV had recently 
approached him about serving as a government advisor on 
nuclear power, but he had declined citing his workload. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX said he hopes the government will tap the USB lab at 

CARACAS 00000026 002 OF 003 


some point to spearhead nuclear power research, with the 
accompanying funding, as he agrees with President Chavez on 
Venezuela's need to diversify its energy sources. He noted 
that his scientists are currently collaborating with the 
National Experimental Politech University of the Bolivarian 
Armed Forces, UNEFA, on developing a course, as the military 
seems to have a new interest in giving its cadets a nuclear 
physics background. (Note: XXXXXXXXXXXX is hopeful this 
collaboration might translate into more funding for his lab, 
which currently looks more like a museum than a functioning 
research center. End Note.) 

--------------------------------------------- - 
BARRIERS TO DEVELOPING A NUCLEAR POWER PROGRAM 
--------------------------------------------- - 

6. (C) The scientists argued that the GBRV's failure to 
support serious nuclear research has resulted in antiquated 
labs, restrictive policies that inhibit academic research, 
and a dearth of experts in the field. They also noted lack 
of uranium as another limiting factor. In May 2005 when 
Chavez announced his plans to start a nuclear energy program, 
media reports at that time indicated that according to 
government research in the 70's, there might be three 
substantial uranium deposits in Venezuela. XXXXXXXXXXXX, however, 
was firm in his assertion that Venezuela has little uranium. 
His friend, respected Venezuelan geologist, often jokes with 
him that "yes there is a uranium mine, but no one knows where 
it is." XXXXXXXXXXXX added that Venezuela has thorium which can 
be mixed with other radioactive materials and might someday 
replace uranium in nuclear reactions. 

7. (C) In addition to a lack of natural resources, XXXXXXXXXXXX said 
there is also a severe deficiency in "manpower". He claimed 
that all of the scientists in Venezuela capable of running or 
even assisting with a nuclear power program were in the room. 
(Three scientists were present). He said he knew perhaps 
130 former students that had the academic credentials, but 
almost all of them were "either selling shoes or building 
shopping malls." He said the USB lab is now focusing more on 
health diagnostics as there is a commercial interest in such 
research. 

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX also implied he was not impressed with the 
quality of the government's staff in the sector. XXXXXXXXXXXX is his 
former student. XXXXXXXXXXXX. While 
the Directorate has its own lab, XXXXXXXXXXXX said he has personally 
verified that none of its equipment works. He noted that the 
Directorate is a purely bureaucratic operation where 
scientists do not conduct research but rather attend numerous 
conferences abroad. When work needs done, the Directorate 
will occasionally bring in experts and contract out research 
projects. As an additional example of the government's 
failures in the sector, he cited Venezuela's sole, and now 
defunct, reactor at the GBRV's Venezuelan Institute for 
Scientific Research (IVIC). USB, he said, carried off pieces 
of the 1950's era reactor several years ago for student 
experiments. 

9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX finished his list of serious challenges facing 
the development of a Venezuelan nuclear power program by 
complaining about his inability to get permission from the 
USG to obtain equipment or even data from the US. He said 
the Venezuelan government is even more difficult to work with 
as it will not give him licenses to import any radioactive 
material. XXXXXXXXXXXX has consequently taken to bringing in 
undeclared material in his pocket. He stated he flew in with 
a "source" from California in this manner even though the 
University warned him he could end up in jail. He ignored 
the warning saying the Venezuelan government does not seem to 
be particularly interested in the fact that all of the 
radioactive material in the USB lab is currently illegal 
under Venezuelan law. XXXXXXXXXXXX added that anything students 
or professors do with the radioactive material is also 
illegal. After 20 years of his best efforts, XXXXXXXXXXXX has yet 
to get GBRV approval for radioactive material handling 
regulations he wrote himself based on manuals he obtained 
from the Imperial College of London and a US university. In 
another "illegal" practice, XXXXXXXXXXXX said that his scientists 
regularly go scavenging for radium from old Venezuelan 
hospitals that they store on the USB campus. 

CARACAS 00000026 003 OF 003 



------- 
COMMENT 
------- 

10. (C) In spite of Chavez' grand public statements, the 
academic community believes the GBRV continues to demonstrate 
that it is uninterested in, or unable to develop a domestic 
nuclear energy program. It has instead hamstrung the efforts 
of the handful of its scientists with an interest in the 
area. Scientists seem inclined to agree with a member of 
Argentina's National Atomic Energy Commission who in 2005 was 
quoted as saying "on a scale of zero to five, nuclear power 
development within Venezuela does not reach one. It is not 
only behind Brazil and Argentina, it is also behind Chile, 
Mexico and Peru." Nevertheless, the USB scientists seemed 
confident that if Venezuela one day finds a country willing 
to sell its technology on credit, however unlikely given 
Venezuela's looming financial trouble, the GBRV would be more 
than willing to buy. Regardless of whether or not nuclear 
power plants make sense in a petroleum rich country, high 
profile projects that give the rest of the world cause for 
concern hold a certain appeal for Chavez. 

GENNATIEMPO