Nuclear Brazil

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(Host) While the world’s attention has been on Iraq and North Korea’s nuclear program, commentator Bill Seamans says that similar problems have been brewing much closer to home.

(Seamans) Now that we’re waiting to see what happens next in Iraq, I suggest we turn to a situation of concern that is demanding attention at our backdoor in Latin America. The 9/11 hearings repeatedly asked: Who knew what and when – and who told who what and when? Let’s hope that a few years from now we will not be asking the same questions about a major security threat in our southern hemisphere.

The huge and still growing gap between the rich and the poor in Latin America is causing increasing social and political turmoil. In Venezuela a major American oil source could be at risk. The Hezbollah – yes, that powerful terrorist group from the Middle East supported by Iran, has established a base in a remote area along the common borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, And in Brazil, we have a new nuclear proliferation headache.

Way back in 1952 I was working in Brazil and filed a story that was published in the New York Times. I reported that three concentrations of rich deposits of uranium had been found in the state of Minas Gerais. Also that leading American atomic scientists were helping Brazil take the lead in Latin-American atomic development. That was back in 1952…

Fast forward to April 4, 2004 – The Washington Post reported that the Brazilian government has refused to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine a facility for enriching uranium being built near Rio de Janeiro. Brazil maintains, said the Washington Post, that the facility will produce uranium only for power plants, not the highly enriched material used in nuclear weapons.

But it was said the Brazilian situation plays into fears that a new type of nuclear race is underway, right at our backdoor. It’s marked not by the bold pursuit of atomic weapons but by a quiet and lawful development of sophisticated technology which can be quickly converted into a weapons program. If the U.S. and the U.N. do not act now to curtail Brazil’s nuclear program or at least insist on inspections, it’s said the lack of action could undermine White House calls for Iran and North Korea to halt their efforts to enrich uranium.

52 years ago in Brazil one could feel the growing enormous industrial potential. Today that progress is threatened by a poverty-born crime wave that is almost out of control in Rio and in Sao Paulo… Social and political turmoil in Brazil could threaten the control of its nuclear program which in turn could threaten our national security.

If we do not act now will a future Senate Hearing about a crisis in Brazil again be asking: Who knew what and when – and who told who what and when?

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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