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Argentine nuclear plans slated by Uruguay

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, June 24 (UPI) -- In the latest twist to the growing nuclear debate in Latin America, Uruguay accused Argentina of neglecting due process of consultation before going ahead with plans to build a new nuclear power station.

The first hints of a developing row over Argentina's nuclear plans came nearly a month after Brazil unveiled plans to expand its uranium processing operations, possibly with sights set on export potential, and Venezuela's pledge to explore nuclear energy.

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Uruguay's open criticism of Argentina, conveyed indirectly through the media, came within a week of near resolution of a 5-year dispute between the two countries on an eucalyptus pulp mill near the shared Uruguay river.

Argentina pursued Uruguay for that period for failing to consult before opening the pulp mill in 2006. Buenos Aires went to the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. with its complaint but was thwarted when the judges ruled the river faced no threat of pollution from the mill.

Uruguayan media saw parallels in the unsuccessful Argentine campaign against Uruguay over the mill and Uruguay's robust defense against potential threats to its environment from the planned nuclear project.

Argentina backed the pulp mill campaign with a populist blockade of a river bridge by environmentalist pickets. The protests have come to haunt the government as environmentalists adopt an increasingly independent role in the pulp mill affair.

A blockade of the bridge was suspended last week on the promise of environmentalist groups having a say in the pulp mill's "green" credentials. Uruguay wants none of that and has turned the tables on Argentina, calling for an investigation of all potential pollutants of the river, including those in Brazil, where the river originates.

The nuclear controversy is more portentous, however, because Uruguay seems poised to push the argument that Argentina acted against the International Energy Agency's nuclear security convention when it went ahead with the nuclear project without consulting Uruguay.

Argentina already has two nuclear power plants, the first operational since 1974 and the second in service since 1983. Together the reactors provide about 10 percent of Argentina's national grid demand.

Uruguayan President Jose "Pepe" Mujica, so far conciliatory toward Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is hardening toward Buenos Aires after several years of Argentine belligerence over the pulp mill issue and other bilateral matters.

The Uruguayan El Pais newspaper said the government was considering an official reaction to Argentina's alleged non-compliance with the nuclear safety convention but had not decided on its response.

Both Uruguay and Argentina ratified the Nuclear Security Convention in 1994. The convention requires signatories to inform neighboring countries of all nuclear development activities.

El Pais noted a "parallelism" between Uruguay's unease over the Argentine nuclear plant and Montevideo's decision not to inform Argentina beforehand of the construction of the pulp mill.

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