Bolivia: Morales underlines ambitious energy plan, and dares foreign powers to stop it developing nuclear energy

Bolivia has big plans for expanding its energy matrix, with wind and nuclear power to the fore. On the latter in particular, President Morales isn’t taking no for an answer.

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President Evo Morales at the inauguration of Bolivia’s first wind turbines in Pocona, Cochabamba. Photo courtesy of ABI

Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, saw in the new year by officially opening the country’s first wind turbines, and spoke of ambitious plans to begin exporting energy to neighbouring countries while also developing nuclear power. Together, the two new turbines, situated in Pocona in the central region of Cochabamba, will generate 3MW of electricity, having cost some US$7.5m to build.

Morales, who has been a prominent global advocate of respect for the environment and “Mother Nature” during an eight-year tenure which he hopes to extend in elections later this year, said that the inauguration represented a “historic day” for Bolivia, adding that he believed wind power to be “the most ecological in the world”.

He also expressed his confidence that Bolivia would be able to start exporting energy as early as next year, stating that domestic demand for electricity in Bolivia currently stands at around 1GW, whereas generation is already at 1.2GW. His government had previously set 2020 as the year by which it hoped to achieve its goal of becoming a net exporter of electricity, but various energy projects due to be inaugurated this year are set to guarantee a further 418MW from hydroelectric and thermoelectric sources, currently the two dominant energy sources in the Andean country. Furthermore, the minister for Hydrocarbons and Energy, Juan José Sosa, told those at the opening that the government had also secured more than US$800m in financing that would allow the development of three more hydroelectric complexes in the near future, adding a further 400MW to the country’s energy mix.

Sosa also told reporters that the Pocona wind plant was indicative of the government’s energy plan, which among other objectives seeks to transform the energy mix from its current composition of around 65% fossil-fuel and 35% hydroelectric power. The government’s plan is for the makeup to be closer to 70% hydroelectric and other alternative renewables, and 30% thermoelectric, by 2025.

In separate comments, Morales also trained his sights on Bolivia obtaining nuclear power in the not-too-distant future, building on previous affirmations made last year. In October, Morales had said “we are already dreaming of having atomic nuclear energy, and we are not all that far off”, since the country already had deposits of the necessary primary materials (such as uranium oxide) at its disposal. Now, the President has moved to claim that Bolivia will ‘soon’ be able to exploit this source of energy, calling it “a right of all Bolivians”. “We’re not far off from having atomic energy for peaceful means, because we have sufficient primary materials and because we have the right (to do so)”, Morales said in comments picked up by the Bolivian news agency ABI. He also pointed to other recent scientific and technological advances, such as the launch of Bolivia’s first satellite “Túpac Katari” last month, and expressed his hope that these and future projects would help to stop Bolivia being seen as one of the “last” countries in Latin America.

In comments that must surely have been directed at US opposition to Iranian nuclear programmes, Morales declared that “not only developed countries can rely (on this energy) while denying others”, and maintained his stance that Bolivia would only use nuclear energy “for peaceful means”, reiterating the fact that his country “is not warlike”. Back in October, he had slammed external observers for supposedly voicing concerns over his country’s nuclear plans, claiming that it was hypocritical of them to be against the idea of a developing country such as Bolivia obtaining nuclear power when they themselves had used it and maintained nuclear weapons arsenals for decades.

Longer-term planning for Bolivia’s march towards nuclear power began last year, with several top and emerging scientists being sent to neighbouring Argentina – which has had nuclear power for decades – in order to receive training on the subject, with two embarking on a postgraduate course in Nuclear Engineering. Other scientists are receiving training in nuclear medicine, with the aim of exploring ways of utilising nuclear technology for medical purposes. Morales has also held brief and informal discussions with the French President, François Hollande, on the topic of nuclear energy development and the potential for a training agreement similar to that already in play with Argentina. Additionally, Morales discussed nuclear power with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a close political ally of Morales, during his spell as Iranian President, with suggestions that the Middle Eastern country could provide Bolivia with help in a future development of its own nuclear power sector.