Argentina Deliberates Russia’s Participation in Domestic Uranium Extraction; Russia Seeks Larger Role in Country’s Nuclear Sector

On July 17, the Argentinian government disclosed that deliberations were ongoing into an offer by the Russian government to pursue uranium mining in Argentina through its state-owned nuclear power company, Rosatom. The offer seemingly builds on a 2018 memorandum on nuclear sector cooperation signed between the two countries.  The agreement stipulated, among other things, the joint development of Argentina’s uranium supplies and the potential for up to $250 million in Russian investment in this endeavor.

Russia, which has been seeking to engage more actively in Argentina’s nuclear sector in recent years, views the Fernandez administration as a renewed opportunity to make economic progress in the country, following a relatively lukewarm period of bilateral relations with the Mauricio Macri administration. Meanwhile, Russian engagement in the nuclear sector could become an option for Buenos Aires to counterbalance against the country’s existing work with China in this sector. 

In 2019, Buenos Aires and Beijing signed a letter of intent for China to finance 85% of the cost of the $10 billion Atucha III – Argentina’s fourth impending nuclear reactor.  There had earlier been concern, however, that Argentina acceptance of Chinese nuclear power plant investment from China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) risked accumulating excessive debt obligations to China.

For the past decade, Argentina has been seeking to exploit its reportedly vast uranium reserves, which are concentrated in the country’s Chubut region, in order to increase the self-sufficiency of its nuclear power plants and also position Argentina to become a regional supplier in the uranium market. At present, the country imports the entirety of the 250 annual tons of uranium (as of 2018) required for operation of its three nuclear reactors.

Although the nuclear energy remains a minor source of power for Argentina, the sector has attracted significant interest from China and now, Russia, as an area of strategic investment.