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Brazil expects deal on nuclear plans

/ Source: The Associated Press

Brazilian officials expressed optimism Wednesday that they would reach agreement with United Nations inspectors over the country’s contested plans to enrich uranium.

International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, speaking at the U.N. agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday, said: “The Brazilian government is being constructive in trying to find an appropriate solution.”

Brazil has proposed that the agency inspect the valves and tubes leading to and from the centrifuges but not view the equipment completely.

“The solution we presented met both the needs of the government and the agency,” said Gustavo Cruz da Souza, a spokesman for Brazil’s Science and Technology Ministry.

Brazil’s refusal to give the IAEA full access has prompted fears that North Korea and Iran could point to Brazil’s example to justify their own lack of compliance.

For months, Brazil refused to allow inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog to see the enriching centrifuges at its plant in Resende, some 60 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil claimed the plant’s advanced technology could be stolen by other countries if outsiders were allowed to view it. Brazil wants to use the uranium enriched at Resende to fuel its Angra I and II nuclear power plants, which produce 4.3 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Fleming, the IAEA spokeswoman, had said earlier that inspectors needed only “physical access to the parts that would be crucial in determining that all nuclear material is accounted for and none is leaving that building.”

Brazilian officials believe their proposal meets those requirements.

Three IAEA inspectors arrived Monday in Brazil for a three-day visit to review the proposed inspection regime.

IAEA inspectors from France, South Africa and the United States on Tuesday spent six-and-a-half hours at the plant, where they were allowed to see the tubing and valves leading to the centrifuges where uranium would be enriched.

They were not, however, allowed to see the centrifuges in their entirety.

The inspectors declined to talk to the press.

Souza said the inspectors were meeting again with Brazilian officials Wednesday and would return to Vienna later in the evening.

“The visit of the IAEA mission proves Brazil has nothing to hide in nuclear material,” Defense Minister Jose Viegas said in Brasilia, the nation’s capital.

The inspectors will present their findings to officials in Vienna, who will then decide whether to accept Brazil’s inspection proposal.

If the agency accepts the proposal, it will send another team to carry out inspections, which could allow the plant to start operation.

Science and Technology Minister Eduardo Campos said Brazil expected to hear back from the agency within 30 days.

Uranium enriched to low levels is used for fuel to generate power. More highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium can be used in nuclear warheads. Brazil denies it is building such arms.