Atucha II Photo via Impacto Local

After last week’s state visit to Asia, the government has secured Chinese funding of around 12.5 billion USD, of which 8 billion will be used to build the 5th nuclear power plant in the country, in Patagonia. A portion of the remaining funds will go towards another nuclear power plant, set to be built in Buenos Aires Province, with construction starting in January 2018.

Alberto Weretilneck, Governor of Río Negro, announced details of the plant to be built in Patagonia, starting in 2020. An estimated 4,000 people will be hired to build the plant, of which 800 will be contracted in from abroad. The next step is to determine the exact location, from a shortlist of 8 chosen by the company INVAP.

Weretilneck appears positive about the build, announcing the government’s plans to have hospitals, schools, roads and electrical networks in the surrounding area. Meanwhile Mario Das Neves, Governor of neighboring Chubut has come out in the past few hours to oppose the measure.

Alongside existing controversy surrounding the dams being built in the Santa Cruz River, the Macri administration is racking up more environmental criticism with the announcement of the new nuclear plants. As detailed in a report by Infobae, concerns are being raised over the safety, cost, ‘cleanliness’ and speed of nuclear, potentially more dangerous and costly than renewables. The use of uranium, extremely toxic and with a history of devastation in the country, is also causing alarm.

35 social organizations in Patagonia, united against the government’s plans, made this pretty clear on Monday, sending a letter to the Chinese ambassador, expressing they “categorical opposition to the installation of any kind of nuclear energy plantation in any part of our Patagonian territory.” Many Patagonian inhabitants are also upset at not being notified or consulted previously.

Environmental concerns are coupled with economic woes too. Télam estimates that the Price per megawatt produced in the nuclear plants is four times more than it would be in the Energy Ministry’s RenovAR plan. In other words, this particular use of nuclear power produces less energy for more money.

The solar and wind energy offered by RenovAR would also be available much more quickly; doesn’t need to be bought (uranium has to be paid for), and requires no money spent on waste management (dealing with radioactive waste costs more than the energy itself.)

A member of the antinuclear movement in Chubut, Pablo Palicio Lada explained the importance of waste management, to Infobae: “A millionth of a gram of [plutonium] can cause cancer; 10 kilos could wipe out Patagonia.”

The government wants to use a technique similar to fracking, named Lixiviation in situ, to mine uranium (a nuclear energy source) in Santa Rosa, Río Negro. The process uses water and sulphuric acid, and is more risky for the environment than gold and silver mining. Open cast mining is currently prohibited in Chubut, something Cambiemos are also hoping to change.

Proponents of nuclear energy stress its efficiency, the lack of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and the number of jobs created. Sceptics, however, maintain that solar and wind industries are creating more jobs in less time compared to many other industries, and that nuclear energy does actually produce more CO2 than other renewable sources.