21st Century Science & Technology


How Brazil’s Nuclear Association Defeated Greenpeace

From the Spring 2001 issue of 21st Century Science & Technology (partial text).

Guilherme Camargo, the director of the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Association (ABEN), was interviewed on Oct. 20, 2000, by Jonathan Tennenbaum, the editor of the German-language magazine Fusion, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of 21st Century. Tennenbaum was in Brazil to attend the ABEN technical congress, and to release a Portuguese edition of his book, Nuclear Energy: A Feminine Science.

AngraQuestion: It is an honor to interview the person who many say played the decisive role in the remarkable renaissance of the Brazilian nuclear program, which has recently been demonstrated to the world by the outstanding performance of the newly completed Angra 2 power station. Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I am a mechanical engineer. I have a special graduate degree in nuclear engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. I started working in the nuclear sector in Brazil in 1976. My whole professional experience is in the nuclear sector. For the last 12 years, I’ve been dedicated to the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Association (ABEN). I was the President of ABEN from 1988 to 1990. I rebuilt the whole institution, which had been virtually abandoned.

ABEN is a very important institution in the nuclear sector in Brazil, and has major political significance in our country. I would say it is one of the most active nuclear associations in the world.

Our recent Overall Technical Congress—in which you took part—had more than 700 registered participants and about 100 university students. It was considered the biggest event of its kind by an official of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who delivered a presentation to the Congress.

Question: Many people had written off the future of nuclear energy in Brazil and other developing countries. It is inspiring, and also a bit embarrassing, coming from Germany, to see how you have succeeded in your fight to reverse the dismantling of the nuclear sector, and completed the Angra 2 plant, which was a key feature of the German-Brazilian nuclear agreement signed more than 20 years ago. Can you give some historical background to this process?

I chose to work in the nuclear area back in 1976, when I was in the last year of my mechanical engineering course. This was just one year after Brazil has signed the nuclear agreement with Germany. At that time, I was struggling with the usual existential questions of students. I had had some unsatisfying professional experiences before, and I wanted to do something creative in the engineering field. Then I read a story in the newspaper about the first Brazilian nuclear engineers who were trained in Germany, and I said, “Aha! This is what I want to do; this is my salvation in this crazy engineering field.”

I was trained in Germany in two two-year periods, a total of four years. I worked directly in building power plants in Germany, and I can say that I’ve participated in the completion of five nuclear power plants: Grafenrheinfeld, Grohnde, and the Konvoi project, which includes three power plants.

Question: What was your position?

I worked for the German firm KWU. At that time KWU was a completely independent company. During the first period, 1979-1980, I was an on-the-job trainee. The second time, I was hired by KWU when the Brazilian program started to sink into political problems. In order to preserve the technical capability in Brazil, KWU hired, for a certain time, good Brazilian professionals whom it had trained. I came back in 1983-1984, and I was responsible for the area of mechanical components, especially the systems for dealing with nuclear waste in nuclear power plants.

I was a kind of senior engineer, working together with the group manager and in many issues directly with the department manager. In addition to many other things, I had the opportunity of participating in the preparation of a proposal for a turn-key nuclear power plant in Akkuyu in Turkey. Because of my international experience and language skills, and my overall knowledge of the department, I was the main technical coordinator for this proposal in my department. It was a big and very interesting study, which cost 10 million deutschemarks. Unfortunately, the project was not realized, because of financial problems in Turkey.

The signal for the beginning of the campaign was the famous article in [the German weekly] Der Spiegel, titled “Die goldene Eier—der Deutsch-Brasilianische Kernenergie-Abkommen” [The Golden Egg: The German-Brazilian Nuclear Agreement]. This was a terrible report, and it generated a Parliamentary Investigation Commission in Brazil. At that time, there was a military government in Brazil, and this issue gave a very unique possibility for opposition politicians to make charges against the military government, because the whole thing was considered to be a “technical issue,” not a political issue.

And the fact is, that the nuclear programs in Brazil were totally destroyed. In 1993—I am shortening the story—Greenpeace was founded in Brazil. They opened offices in Rio and in São Paulo, and in that year there was a terrible defamatory campaign in all newspapers, and the whole media, to finish off the nuclear program. No politician would dare to talk to us about nuclear energy. They stayed away from us, for fear of being seen with people who had been portrayed as insane killers. There was a very important additional factor that should be mentioned, which was the radiological incident in Goiania in 1987 [where discarded medical equipment exposed unknowing local residents to radiation], which enhanced the entire anti-nuclear campaign in Brazil. It was a terrible situation. ...

Question: Although that accident had nothing to do with nuclear energy. . .

Yes, but you know that if an insignificant leak develops in a power plant in Japan, then reporters will call us to ask if such a thing could happen in the Angra plant here.

In addition, we had a very bad startup of the Angra 1 plant, full of technical problems. In my personal opinion, Angra 1 was based on a bad agreement with Westinghouse, because the design was already obsolete in terms of efficiency—not in terms of safety, but in terms of efficiency. The Westinghouse design used for Angra I was at that time not the state-of-the-art. So it had enormous problems.

Also, at the beginning of the 1990s, the U.S. State Department blocked the supply of the fuel elements for Angra 1, which Westinghouse had designed. This was a unilateral breaking of purchasing contracts and international agreements. At that time the Brazilian utility involved, decided to improvise, to use adapted Siemens nuclear fuel elements, which are slightly different from the original ones, and we had some problems with some small leakages in the fuel rods.

So, because of technical problems, political pressures, and a total lack of political support, the plant remained closed for almost one year. That was the time when the Greenies started to call this a “firefly plant,” because it was turned on and off so frequently!

That was the situation. There were extremely aggressive editorials against nuclear energy, for instance, in important newspapers such as Gazeta Mercantil, which is comparable to the U.S. Wall Street Journal—a journal for businessmen. The whole nuclear sector was in despair and had no idea what to do.

So, I and some colleagues of ABEN presented to the CEOs of the main nuclear companies and institutions a strategic plan for how to reverse this terrible situation in a short time. That strategy was totally unorthodox and unusual. Nobody had done this before, but we had very special conditions. We hired very good professional press agents, and, through them, we finally made contact with the big guys in the media, the top publishers and editors of the newspapers, who were friends with these press agents.

At first, we went to them and told them that nuclear energy is not so bad, that the cheapest solution was to finish Angra 2, and that there was no other good option; otherwise the country would go into an energy disaster. And, at the time, Angra 1 was functioning very well.

But press people said, “So what? This is no news, my friend.” You know, there is a saying among journalists in Brazil: “If a dog bites a girl, this is not news. But it would be front page news, if the girl bites the dog!”

So I started thinking about that, and at that moment I took notice, through the U.S. weekly Executive Intelligence Review, about the Icelandic journalist Magnus Gudmundsson. He had made movies about Greenpeace, presenting very strong criticisms and evidence, which had a huge impact in the Scandinavian countries. He was mainly focussed on fishing and whaling issues, but he had collected a set of evidence, and he was very aggressive.

So, we got directly in contact with Gudmundsson in Reykjavik, and we got all his films. And when I took a look at those videos, I was very excited. I said: “Now we have something. Now we have the girl who has bitten the dog!” The next day, I went to São Paulo with my press agent, to the leading magazine, Veja, which is equivalent to Der Spiegel in Germany, and I talked to the general editor. I said to him: “Okay, my friend. You said that if a nuclear power plant has a very good performance, this is not news. So you would like bad news. You are making propaganda for this corrupt organization called Greenpeace, for this bunch of criminals and liars. What if I show you some consistent evidence of that? Would that be news for you?”

This was during a lunch. The editor was very shocked and he honestly said: “If you have real evidence about that, certainly it is big news. Show me.” I gave him the films. He called me the next day and said, “This is fantastic! I want to meet this fellow [Gudmundsson].”

We quickly arranged a visit of Gudmundsson to Brazil, a presentation by him to the National Congress, and a meeting for him with Gilberto Mestrinho, who was the governor of Amazonas and a kind of Brazilian anti-green leader. When Gudmundsson arrived in Rio, an explosive interview with him had already been published, titled something like “The Rotten Truth about the Greenies,” and telling the whole story about the revelations of former Greenpeace leader McTaggart, secret accounts, manipulation of Caribbean countries [around whaling issues], and so on.

Gudmundsson is very convincing because he is a journalist. This interview had been done by telephone, in such a way, that when Gudmundsson arrived in Brazil, the magazine was already on newsstands. We arranged a press conference in a hotel the same day he came, and there were about 30 journalists from the mass media in Brazil present.

That happened in May 1994. So we started out, in this campaign of communication with the media, by attacking our enemies. The discussion had nothing to do with nuclear energy per se. For example, I participated in a live television debate together with three persons from Greenpeace and other NGOs [non-governmental organizations], where the audience could ask questions.

One fellow got up and said, “The nuclear sector has lots of problems; it is dangerous and poisonous.” But I said to the moderator, “I don’t understand; are we here to discuss nuclear energy or about NGOs?” And the moderator said, “You are right; no discussion about nuclear here, just about Greenpeace, just Greenpeace.”

So we spent almost eight months hitting Greenpeace in the liver very carefully, and very sharply. Also, after that event, we had access to internal information from Greenpeace Brazil.

“So we spent almost eight months
hitting Greenpeace in the liver
very carefully, and very sharply.”

Question: What was Greenpeace then doing in Brazil?

The main focus of the startup of Greenpeace in Brazil was a sharp, deadly attack against the nuclear sector. Their initial aim was to collect 500,000 signatures for a declaration calling for shutting down the Angra 1 plant, and immediate stopping construction of Angra 2. We knew that. The President of Brazil at that time was Itamar Franco, who was, in fact, very anti-nuclear. And Itamar had been the head of the Parliamentary Investigation Commission on the German-Brazilian nuclear agreement in the beginning of the 1980s, when he was a Senator.

So, I said, we have to wipe out these guys. It was like a Western movie, a kind of “Gunfight at OK Corral.” You kill or you die. And we destroyed these guys. The Greenpeace anti-nuclear manifesto was a disastrous failure. The President, who at the beginning of his term had received the whole Greenpeace Board of Directors, refused to receive the manifesto after the news in the press.

Instead of having 500,000 signatures, they got only 30,000, and of these 30,000, 90 percent were collected among teenagers, mainly high school students 15 to 16 years old! I would actually estimate that 29,000 of these 30,000 signatures were collected from pupils in Brazilian schools, mainly in Rio and São Paolo. We proved that in one very large English course alone, which had several branches throughout the country, the teachers and board of directors collected 12,000 signatures from the students. So, when Greenpeace went to the Congress to present this manifesto—because the President had refused to receive it—they went to the Chamber of Representatives, and took an exhibition of drawings of children against nuclear energy. But on the same day, we presented to the deputies the evidence, from investigating the identities of the signatures, that Greenpeace had collected signatures from high school students. When the deputies saw our evidence, they abandoned Greenpeace, and the exhibition of drawings was removed the next day. Greenpeace was banned from the Congress.

In the following days, the president of Greenpeace Brazil was fired, and in the next two months, Greenpeace declared to the press that its income had dropped to 10 percent of the preceding year, even less than 10 percent.

So, after a short time, Greenpeace totally abandoned having an anti-nuclear campaign! I think Brazil is the only nation in the world where Greenpeace is not running an anti-nuclear campaign. They have totally given up attacking us; they don’t talk about nuclear energy in Brazil.

During this period, my colleagues often asked me: “What are you doing? Are you here to attack Greenpeace or to defend the nuclear cause?” I said to them, very upset about this lack of understanding: “Oh, don’t you think it is the same thing?”

And then, these people, our friends, the scientists and engineers, started to realize what was really going on; that there was a fight, a harsh combat, a war, and that war must be taken on, and that there was no other way: that we had to defeat the enemy in order to succeed in our aims. They understood that we should not go into silly, orchestrated anti-nuclear events, arguing about the safety of nuclear power plants, saying that the probability of an accident is 10 to the minus so-and-so—this kind of nonsense that all nuclear guys in the whole world usually use as strategy.

And the whole nuclear sector in Brazil—because they are not idiots, they just needed somebody to wake them up from this psychotic trance—woke up to the real fight. The real fight has nothing to do with technical issues; it is purely political, and mainly emotional and psychological warfare. As a matter of fact, we used the same tactics that the anti-nuclear people used against us.

The collateral effect of this anti-Greenpeace campaign, after we had destroyed them totally, was that we got enormous credit in the eyes of the media. The press, the journalists, started to say: “these people are telling the truth, they deserve our attention. They brought up a very dangerous issue, and they were right, so at least we must hear what they say.”

Question: Was this success based only on Gudmundsson and his evidence from Iceland, or did you have evidence about how Greenpeace was operating in Brazil? In Germany there is an aura of legitimacy built up around Greenpeace.

I must say very honestly, that I have been a reader of Executive Intelligence Review since 1988, when I started in the presidency of ABEN, and I was in contact with the EIR representative in Brazil, Lorenzo Carrasco. I benefitted enormously from the strategic information we got from EIR, and from the more theoretical issues in 21st Century Science and Technology. We are institutional subscribers to both magazines. And basically we got the first reports on Greenpeace from those sources.

Of course we started to make an enormous research effort by ourselves. But the hints from EIR were decisive. In fact, we wouldn’t have known about Gudmundsson if I were not a reader of EIR.

EIR and 21st Century present the much larger, philosophical, historical, and strategic perspective about the whole deployment of the NGOs against developing nations, and who is really behind it. There is the book [in German] of EIR’s Ralf Schauerhammer, Sackgasse Ökostatt [The Dead-end Eco-state]. which I read, and 21st Century’s The Holes in the Ozone Scare by Rogelio Maduro. I also read other books which are mentioned in those publications, for example, the two books of Dixy Lee Ray.

So, we had an enormous amount of information before getting into this fight. And we learned very quickly how to deal with the press. . . .

Return to top
Home   Current Issue Contents   Sample Articles   Subscribe   Order Books  News
Shop Online
 Contribute  Statement of Purpose  Back Issues Contents  Español  Translations
Order Back Issues 
Index 1988-1999   Advert. Rates  Contact Us

21st Century, P.O. Box 16285, Washington, D.C. 20041 Phone: (703) 777-6943 Fax: (703) 771-9214
Copyright © 2005 21st Century Science Associates. All rights reserved.