Will the IAEA some day have to shift its attention to northern South America? In a move bound to attract US attention, Venezuelan officials have declared that they are conducting further exploration for uranium deposits. This, combined with President Hugo Chávez’s close ties with Iran and Russia, leads to concerns about transfer of the material for fuel, perhaps in exchange for nuclear technology.
How should the stated desire by Chávez to develop nuclear energy be viewed by the rest of the world? Even oil rich countries will some day have to look elsewhere for its energy needs, but at present Venezuela has no lack of oil resources. The country has sufficient reserves (99.4 billion barrels), based on current production estimates, to last approximately a century.
Might Venezuela one day push beyond the desire for nuclear energy and seek to possess nuclear weapons? Chávez has spent billions on conventional weapons and so seems to have the financial resources, if he wishes, to pursue nukes. At the same time, the Venezuelan government has consistently expressed fears of a foreign invasion and could see the bomb as the ultimate deterrent.
Any move taken by Venezuela to pursue nuclear weapons, however, would go against existing international law. The Treaty of Tlatelolco, drafted in 1967, prohibits the possession of nuclear weapons in the Caribbean and Latin America. Venezuela signed the convention that year and ratified it in 1970. Argentina was the last country in South America to pursue nuclear weapons (nearly three decades ago), but soon halted its efforts and only uses its reactors for energy production.