Senate Approves Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement With the US
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Senate Approves Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement With the US

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María José Goytia By María José Goytia | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Tue, 03/22/2022 - 12:59

The North America, Foreign Affairs and Energy Senate Committees approved an agreement to strengthen cooperation for the sustainable and safe development of nuclear energy, exclusively for peaceful and non-explosive purposes. The agreement could boost Mexico’s capabilities to use nuclear energy for power production.

The Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy between Mexico and the US was signed in May 2018, during the Peña Nieto administration. If ratified by the legislative branches of both countries, Mexico would gain access to recent technologies to boost the development of nuclear energy generation. In addition, the collaboration can promote research, development, design, construction, maintenance and training in the operation of nuclear power plants and reactors.

The agreement also contemplates the manufacturing and supply of nuclear fuel elements, the production and application of radioactive isotopes in industry, agriculture and medicine, as well as nuclear safety, environmental protection and emergency response preparedness.

Through the agreement, both nations will be able to transfer information related to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In the case of confidential information, they must grant a level of protection comparable to that granted by the other state and will only be able to disclose the information if required by their respective legislation, though not without notifying the other party beforehand. The agreement also allows the US government to transfer low enriched uranium to Mexico, for use as fuel in reactors and reactor experiments, conversion or fabrication, among other mutually agreed applications.

Gina Cruz, President, North American Commission, emphasized in her speech that the agreement strengthens cooperation for sustainable development and addressed the need for clean energy development. Meanwhile, MORENA Senator, Armando Guadiana Tijerina, pointed out that the cleanest and cheapest energy is nuclear energy. He considered it necessary to contemplate the possibility of building one or two more nuclear power plants in Mexico. PAN Senator Xóchitl Gálvez pointed out that nuclear energy is still the only clean energy source that enables stable, large-scale electricity generation without relying on fossil fuels. Therefore, she considered the agreement a positive opportunity for Mexico.

Laguna Verde, located in Veracruz, is currently Mexico’s only nuclear power plant. It produces power through two nuclear reactors, which are operated by CFE. Both plants produced 9,603GW in 2021, equivalent to 4.3 percent of the country's electricity demand. The debate on increasing nuclear energy capacity in Mexico arose in 2019, when Minister of Energy Rocío Nahle said that increasing generation through nuclear power plants was being studied.

President López Obrador's energy reform has also contributed to the discussion regarding the role of nuclear power in the energy transition. During the Open Parliament, industry expert Ricardo Zamora pointed out that although nuclear energy is wonderful, its development could be problematic in countries like Mexico, which still face challenges regarding corruption and rule of law. In addition, obtaining the required Uranium 238 would have to be through imports, which harms Mexico’s energy independence.

In 2021, CFE expressed its reluctance to implement new nuclear power projects due to the high initial capital investment required and the long time it takes to bring them into operation. However, the potential ratification of the agreement with the US may change this point of view.

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