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Cuba Cancels Nuclear Plant Construction

By Dalia Acosta

The Juraguá atomic project was once at the center of the Cold War, as the United States charged that a radioactive cloud from a potential meltdown could reach Washington DC.

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 initiative.

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 instead.

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 safety.

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 program.

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 waste.

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.

* Dalia Acosta is an IPS correspondent.


Copyright © 2001 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados


External Links

Cuba's Nuclear Energy Agency

Center for Applied Nuclear Development Studies, Cuba

About the Juraguá plant

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