The energy trilemma provides an opportunity for Argentina

The country has the necessary know-how to develop small modular reactors (SMR), which have emerged as a solution for this issue

Argentina's SMR. Credit: Wikipedia

Bernardo Dall ‘Ongaro is a member of the Nuclear Affairs Committee at the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI)

Fossil fuel reduction and the adoption of alternative energy sources are among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In order to reach these objectives, we must find a solution to the so-called energy trilemma, an issue many countries that are committed to these goals currently face. 

What is the energy trilemma?

Addressing the challenge of the energy trilemma involves redesigning the energy matrix. This means changing the ways in which individuals produce and consume energy in order to achieve a balance between its three variables. First is sustainability, which means obtaining a supply of clean energy that does not increase the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment. Substantial changes in national energy networks are required to achieve this, considering the use of alternative energy sources. The second variable is security, meaning that energy must be reliable and sufficient, coming from a secure and efficient infrastructure. This includes diversifying energy sources in order to reduce dependence on any single source. Finally, there’s accessibility. Energy must be equally available to all people, regardless of their socioeconomic status.  

The nuclear option

With varying levels of political commitment, countries are redesigning their energy policies to achieve a balance between these three pillars. Within this global challenge of reducing pollutants and transitioning to a sustainable, accessible, and secure energy matrix, small modular reactors (SMR) emerge as a political and commercial opportunity for Argentina. SMRs are advanced nuclear reactors that can produce large amounts of low-carbon electricity. With a generating capacity of 300MWe — close  to a third of traditional reactors — they are cost-effective, require less construction time (can be mass-produced) and are relatively easy to transport and place in diverse areas. Additionally, these reactors could provide other functionalities aligned with the SDGs, such as desalinating seawater to supply drinking water and producing pink hydrogen, an alternative source of clean and sustainable energy. 

Argentina has the necessary know-how to build and manage SMRs, suggesting that it could play a highly relevant role in the process of decarbonizing Latin America’s energy matrix. The country has the opportunity to capitalize on its scientific knowledge to develop and operate these reactors and export them to other countries within the international nuclear landscape. SMRs also offer a concrete and efficient solution to the energy trilemma, as they would allow countries that are committed to SDGs and open to considering nuclear energy networks to progress towards Net Zero by 2050. This type of reactor would be a viable option to address a core issue on the international agenda. 

However, the possibility of providing secure energy through SMRs implies resolving what would be the most suitable safeguards for this new type of technology. Nuclear technology must be aligned with the external control parameters of the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure strictly peaceful purposes and use. 

Addressing climate change and global warming involves expanding interstate cooperation to bring about structural change. Each country must design their own energy policies based on their resources and capacities but all should take into account the three pillars of the trilemma. Within this context, Argentina has the privilege of having other energy sources to redesign its own energy matrix, thanks to wide variety of natural resources it has.


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