HAVANA - Cuba has called
off construction on the Juraguá nuclear plant, located
336 km southeast of the capital, a project that was
once considered the island's most important energy
The building of the energy plant, known as ''Cuba's
project of the 20th century,'' began in 1983 with
backing from the Soviet Union. It was to cover 25
percent of the Caribbean nation's electricity needs.
The project originally included two other nuclear
plants - one in the east and one in the west - and
was intended to eliminate the island's dependence
on petroleum imports, which in the 1980s averaged
13 million tons annually.
But work at Juraguá was suspended eight years ago,
and President Fidel Castro confirmed last December
that Cuba would pursue non-nuclear energy alternatives
The definitive end to the project was due to financial
problems, said the authorities, who had always maintained
that its was ''political manipulation'' from the United
States that had raised doubts about the nuclear plant's
The government has opted for ''more efficient and
less costly'' solutions than the atomic energy plant,
said Castro, after Russian president Vladimir Putin
stated last Dec 15 that ''our friends in Cuba are
not interested in continuing'' the project.
Juraguá was one of the major Cuban-Soviet economic
projects, along with a thermoelectric plant and a
nickel factory, that Havana has been forced to call
off due to lack of funds since the breakup of the
Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia tried unsuccessfully in 1995 to find partners
in other countries to get the first nuclear plant
in Cuba up and running. Over the last decade, in maintenance
costs alone, Moscow has spent some 30 million dollars.
''Under current conditions it does not make sense
to complete the electro-nuclear plant,'' said Osvaldo
Martínez, head of the Center for World Economy Studies
and member of the Cuban parliament.
Martínez explained that even with an investment of
nearly a billion dollars it would be six years before
Juraguá produced electricity, in other words, counterproductive
within the context of the national energy development
Of the energy generated on the island last year, 70
percent came from nationally produced fuels. Based
on efforts underway in exploration, predictions are
that Cuba could cover its own petroleum needs by 2005.
The government strategy depends on positive exploration
results, energy saving and development of alternative
sources, such as electricity generation from sugarcane
Upon confirming the end to the Juraguá project, Castro
announced the inauguration of Energás, a non-nuclear
plant built by a mixed enterprise, crated by the Cuban
government and the Canadian firm Sherrit. By the end
of this year, it should be producing 20 percent of
the electricity Cuba consumes.
The news sparked no commentary from US politicians
or political opposition groups on the island or environmental
groups that had expressed doubts about the safety
of the atomic energy plant.
The project's detractors had asserted that Cuba did
not have the ability to safely operate a nuclear power
plant, pointing to problems in the original design,
maintenance hazards, and the danger of an accident
caused by earthquake. Another question was what would
be done with the radioactive waste.
According to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration, the radioactive cloud caused by a
meltdown in Juraguá would have spread to Mexico, Central
America and throughout the Caribbean, in addition
to potentially reaching the US capital.
Undertaking construction of the Juraguá plant was
considered ''an act of aggression'' against the United
States, according to the Helms-Burton Act, which former
president Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996.
In 1997, the United States resolved to spend three
million dollars on a network of six stations to monitor
possible radioactive emissions originating in Cuba.
In response to any argument against Juraguá that pointed
to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine,
the Cuban government stressed that the technology
used on the island would be different.
According to official sources, Juraguá would have
been able to withstand an earthquake of eight degrees
on the MSK-64 scale, a 10-meter tall tidal wave, or
the impact of an aircraft traveling at a velocity
of 200 meters per second.