Refurbishment for Atucha 1

04 July 2022

Argentina is preparing to refurbish Atucha I, the first nuclear power reactor in South America, so that it may generate power for a further 20 years. A framework to regulate the work has been agreed.

José Luis Antúnez, president of NA-SA and Agustín Arbor González, president of ARN (Image: NA-SA)

Atucha 1 came into service in 1974 and its current operating licence expires at the end of 2024. At that time, its owner and operator, Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA (NA-SA), will take it offline for a USD463 million refurbishment programme lasting two years.

It has become common for pressurised heavy water reactors like Atucha 1 to undergo refurbishment, which typically involves replacing pressure tubes and fuel channels, to enable another two decades of operation. NA-SA said 2000 jobs would be created as it modernised "all the processes and systems of the plant."

Announcing the signing of a framework agreement with the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Argentina (ARN), NA-SA said it was "a fundamental milestone" because it "establishes the regulatory requirements" for the refurbishment and subsequent operation.

"If anyone has any doubts about the useful life of nuclear power plants, the extension of the life of Atucha I is an example," said NA-SA President José Luis Antúnez. The company said the reactor would save 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year compared with the rest of Argentina's electricity mix when it comes back online in 2026.

Atucha 1 was designed and built by KWU, which was a joint venture of Germany's Siemens and AEG. Over time KWU was fully owned by Siemens, before being sold to the reactor business of France's Areva which is now owned by EDF and trading as Framatome. However, Argentina now has an experienced supply chain of its own for pressurised heavy water reactors, having completed and brought into operation the similar Atucha 2 reactor in 2016.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News