Friday, March 18, 2011

239. Venezuela’s Chavez Halts Nuclear Energy Program following Japan Crisis

Chavez Signed an Nuclear Power Plant
Agreement in Russia Last Fall

Yesterday President Hugo Chávez put a freeze on Venezuela’s nascent nuclear energy program as a result of the crisis underway at Japan’s earthquake-stricken nuclear reactors.
In the aftermath of last Friday’s tragic earthquake, Chávez sent his condolences to the Japanese people and announced his decision to halt a bi-lateral nuclear development agreement signed between Venezuela and Russia in October of last year.
The announcement came just hours after new flames engulfed one of Japan’s damaged nuclear plants and forced authorities to evacuate the last remaining technicians.
“What has been taking place in the last few hours represents an enormous risk and threat to the entire world,” said Chávez late Tuesday evening.
“Even with all of the great technology and advances that the Japanese have…just look at what is happening with some of those nuclear reactors,” he said.
Chávez’s comments came after elevated radiation levels at Japan’s earthquake-stricken Fukushima Daiishi nuclear plant led authorities to suspend all efforts to prevent the plant’s reactors from melting down. Authorities ordered clean-up crews to leave the facilities and cancelled plans for the use of military helicopters to dump water on the plants in efforts to prevent temperatures from rising any further.
Chávez said Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis would affect the development of nuclear energy programs worldwide. “There is no doubt whatsoever that this has altered, and will alter in a very strong way, all planning for nuclear energy across the globe,” he said. 
“For the time being,” Chávez said, “I have ordered the Vice President [and Minister of Energy Rafael] Ramírez to put a freeze on the plans we have been advancing, the very preliminary studies related to Venezuela’s peaceful nuclear energy program.”
"The magnitude of the nuclear problem in Japan is not yet known…We [hope] they [the flames, explosions] are as least serious as possible and have the smallest possible affect on Japan and its neighboring countries,” Chávez said in closing statements.
On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called Chávez’s decision to suspend nuclear energy plans a, “timely preventative gesture,” and called on the international community to seek out alternative energies.  
Venezuelan Nuclear Energy Plan & U.S. Response
Venezuela’s plans for a peaceful nuclear energy program were first announced in November of 2008, when Chávez revealed that Venezuelan and Russian experts had begun developing a bi-lateral nuclear accord to be discussed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Venezuela later that month.
Medvedev was the first Russian President to ever visit Venezuela.
Having formally negotiating the nuclear accord with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in April of 2010, six months later Chávez and Medvedez officially signed an agreement to build two 1,200-megawatt nuclear reactors.
During his two-day visit to Russia in October of last year, Chávez reiterated Venezuela’s intentions to move forward with the energy project.
“Yes, we’re going to develop nuclear energy in Venezuela, with Russian support. The world needs to know this, and nothing is going to stop us. We’re free, we’re sovereign, we’re independent,” Chávez told reporters.
“Brazil has several nuclear reactors, as does Argentina. We will also have our own reactor," Chávez said.
U.S. Congressmen Connie Mack – a Florida republican – called the bi-lateral nuclear agreement, “extremely troubling,” and demanded that U.S. President Barack Obama “not turn a blind eye to the serious national security implications of this agreement between Venezuela and Russia.”
 “Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is not a man who can be trusted with nuclear energy,” said the openly anti-Chávez U.S. lawmaker.
Mack, who is now chairman of the U.S. House Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs for the Western Hemisphere, has insisted that Venezuela be placed on the U.S. State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism” and that a “full-scale economic embargo” be enforced against the South American country.
Obama commented on the agreement by recognizing that, “Venezuela has rights to peacefully develop nuclear power,” though he expressed his “concerns” that Venezuela and all other signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty not “weaponize” their nuclear programs.
According to a 2010 document release by the U.S. Defense Department, the United States currently maintains an arsenal of 5,113 nuclear warheads. 

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