Techint halts work on Argentina’s pioneering small modular reactor scheme

Multinational contractor Techint Engineering & Construction has halted work on a pioneering small modular reactor facility in Argentina, citing late payment from the government, design changes and late delivery of technical documentation, a newspaper reports.

Argentina is suffering an economic crisis, and a new government came to power late last month.

Techint temporarily suspended 270 people carrying out civil engineering work on the Carem 25 small modular reactor (SMR) at the Atucha nuclear power plant, reports Argentina’s Ambito Financiero newspaper. 

The newspaper said company sources told it that Techint had repeatedly asked Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) and the government of Mauricio Macri – who was defeated in an election just over two weeks ago – to take "urgent measures" to mitigate the project’s "serious financial breakdown", but that they had not received a response.

"Given this situation, we are forced to adopt mitigation measures on the contract," company sources said.

GCR has asked Techint for confirmation.

Macri’s administration lost power on 28 October to a Peronist alliance of Alberto Fernandez and former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a result blamed on the country’s economic crisis, which has seen high inflation.

Argentina’s foreign currency reserves have been depleted: the central bank recently capped the amount of pesos that could be converted into dollars to a maximum of $200 a month.

Carem 25 is a simplified pressurised water reactor, and the Atucha project was one of the first in the world to try to bring an SMR online. If successful, the scheme was to have been followed by a second 100-200MW reactor in Formosa Province.

The project was to take up 14 ha of the Atucha nuclear plant, and accommodate a 25MW prototype SMR.

Works included the containment vessel, the control room and the plant rooms for the facility’s operating systems.

Techint has protested before. In January, the company said it would abandon the project because the government was refusing to increase its $25m budget for civil engineering work, and it had been hit by devaluation of the peso.

The value of the entire project is around $380m, although the final price may be around $680m.

The firm later agreed to remain on the project, but the deadline for completion was put back from 2020 to 2022.

Image: The Carem project is being built at the Atucha nuclear plant. Work is about 50% complete (Government of Argentina)

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