(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s energy minister said the country plans to sign an accord next week with President Donald J. Trump that could pave the way for U.S. companies to explore the Latin American country for uranium and invest in new nuclear-power plants.
Bento Albuquerque, a former admiral who once ran the Brazilian Navy’s atomic program, met with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in Houston this week and discussed creating a bilateral forum on energy cooperation that would include nuclear projects. That’s expected to be part of a memorandum signed by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on his first trip to the White House next week, Albuquerque said Thursday in an interview.
The proposed collaboration is another element of the Bolsonaro administration’s push to align with Trump, a big shift from previous governments that were more focused on strengthening ties with China. At the same time, Alburquerque said Brazil is open to similar talks about the same opportunities with China, Russia and France.
The effort to attract foreign commercial interest is also an example of government efforts to liberalize parts of the economy. State-controlled Industrias Nucleares do Brasil, or INB, currently has a monopoly on uranium extraction.
"Brazil’s mining industry is already fully private, except for uranium,” said Albuquerque, who was in Houston for the CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference. “It’s absurd that only INB, which depends on Brazil’s Treasury resources, is able to mine for uranium and produce fuel in Brazil.”
Brazilian companies such as iron ore miner Vale SA should have the option to produce uranium, Alburquerque said. Vale declined to comment.
Brazil has about 5 percent of global uranium resources and two atomic power plants, Angra 1 and Angra 2, generating about 3 percent of its electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. A third plant, Angra 3, is currently being evaluated; it could cost as much as $16 billion and be completed in 2023.
Alburquerque, 60, said he supports the construction of new nuclear capacity, and that the chief executive officer of state-controlled operator Eletrobrás Termonuclear has had meetings with foreign atomic companies including Westinghouse Electric Co., Rosatom Corp. and CNNC.
The minister also said he wants to ease obstacles for uranium exploration on indigenous lands, which would require regulatory changes and approval from Congress. Albuquerque will go to a Congressional committee on March 26 to present the proposal.
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