Brazil starts fulfilling a long-held plan: building submarines, including a nuclear-powered sub.
After over 30 years, the dream is finally coming true. In the near future, Brazil will have its first nuclear-powered submarine. It will be built in Brazil through the Brazilian Navy’s Submarine Development – Shipyard and Naval Base Program (Prosub-EBN). Having a nuclear submarine will bolster the Navy’s operations in deep waters far from shore. It will also mark Brazil’s entry into the select group of countries that have the technology, which currently includes the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China.
For this reason, Brazil signed technology transfer agreements with France in 2008 that enabled the start of construction of a shipyard, a naval base, four conventional Scorpene submarines and a nuclear-powered sub. The French state-owned firm DCNS (Direction des Constructions Navales et Services) is responsible for overseeing the process of transferring the technology to the Brazilian Navy and Odebrecht.
Choosing French technology
Traditionally, the countries that have nuclear submarines developed their designs on the basis of several stages of the development of their conventional submarines. Many took years to develop that technology. Today, just two countries produce both conventional and nuclear subs: France and Russia. The Brazilian Navy visited both countries, studied their designs, surveyed their clients worldwide, and concluded that France was the most solid partner for Brazil.
In the first place, this is because France was willing to transfer technology for both the design of a nuclear-powered submarine – in this case, internal structures and systems (except for the nuclear reactor, which was developed by the Navy itself) – and conventional Scorpene subs.
In the second place, the conventional Scorpene sub is different from other conventional models because it includes security concepts similar to those used in its nuclear counterpart (such as sensor, combat and motor cooling systems, etc.). This is because the design is derived from the Rubis/Amethyste, another French nuclear submarine. Brazil’s participation in the construction of the first the four Scorpene submarines will begin in 2011. That vessel will be completed by 2015.
Training in France and Brazil
At the moment, Odebrecht Infraestrutura and Odebrecht Engenharia Industrial teams are hard at work at the jobsite in Itaguaí, Rio de Janeiro, building the Metal Structures Manufacturing Units (UFEM), where the metal parts of the submarines will be made – that is, sections of the hull and internal structures – as well as the Shipyard and Naval Base (EBN). Expectations are that the UFEM will open in 2012, and the EBN should be up and running by 2015. The submarines will be built in stages during the second part of the program. The final unit will be delivered by 2025, when the nuclear-powered submarine will go into operation. Odebrecht will participate in the construction of the subs through Itaguaí Construções Navais, a joint venture with DCNS.
Members of the Brazilian Navy and Odebrecht receive training from the DCNS team in France and Brazil. In the case of the EBN, knowledge is transferred through the Technical Information Package, which comes from France and is delivered to the Navy and then to Odebrecht, following the Navy’s analysis and approval. The information is absorbed and applied to the basic and detailed design. “The lessons learned from this project will make Odebrecht the first Brazilian company with the know-how to design and build shipyards for conventional and nuclear submarines,” says the Director Responsible for the Shipyard and Naval Base, Fabio Gandolfo, from Odebrecht Infraestrutura.
The French state-owned firm’s choice of Odebrecht as a partner was based on the Organization’s expertise in major projects, including nuclear technology (the Angra dos Reis power plants in Rio de Janeiro State), and its operations in the offshore market, including construction of several oil rigs in Brazil and other countries. “DCNS saw Odebrecht as a Brazilian company with the characteristics needed to absorb the French technology and carry out the Prosub program,” says Fernando Barbosa, CEO of Odebrecht Engenharia Industrial, the company responsible for building the conventional and nuclear subs.
Shipbuilding industry gains steam
The relationship between Brazil and submarines and their technology dates back to the early 20th century, when the country acquired its first conventional sub. But it was only in 1993 that it launched the first submarine built on Brazilian soil, at the Naval Arsenal in Rio de Janeiro: the S Tamoio (S-31), using German technology. That step marked the beginning of the nation’s pursuit of technological independence. In 1979, the Navy Nuclear Program (PNM) was created to develop a Brazilian nuclear submarine.
Despite making important advances in nuclear propulsion, the PNM suffered doldrums, particularly in the 1990s. Then, in early 2000, the Brazilian Government decided to invest in the shipbuilding industry and encourage the participation of the private sector to give it a boost and generate work opportunities. Those incentives were further bolstered by the discovery of oil in the pre-salt layer. About 90% of the country’s exports and imports pass through approximately 560 km of its coastline. The Navy is responsible for protecting that area. In this context, the need emerged to reinvest in building submarines, because the Navy’s current fleet only includes five units.
According to Admiral Alan Arthou, who is directing the Shipyard and Naval Base project for the Navy, joining the group of countries that own the technology to build nuclear submarines is a source of national pride: “Prosub will mean that Brazil has achieved technological independence in the field of shipbuilding and nuclear submarines. This will be good for the Navy and for businesses because of the technological expertise it will bring, as well as enabling us to defend our national sovereignty.”
Dredging Sepetiba Bay
A dredging operation is underway to remove soft soil from the bottom of Sepetiba Bay to make the area ready for construction and lay the foundations for the structures included in the EBN project. After that operation is completed, rockfill containment walls will be built to reclaim land from the sea. Then, the wharf, piers, industrial and administrative facilities and other supplementary units will be built.
The Shipyard and the Naval Base will face each another, like two arms reaching out to sea on the shores of Sepetiba Bay. Those arms will encompass the Dársena (submarine berthing areas on both sides that will provide access to two dry-docks, which are included in the project for submarine maintenance and fuel replacement), the harbor basin and the access channel, areas where the submarines will maneuver to enter the EBN’s facilities. All these areas will have a 12-meter draft.
Based on previous studies, the materials to be removed during dredging will include pockets of sediments contaminated with heavy metals (cadmium, nickel, lead and zinc), resulting from years of pollution by factories previously installed there that have been shut down. All told, these pockets amount to 300,000 cu.m. The materials that are not chemically contaminated will be dredged and dumped in the sea in a site authorized by IBAMA (the Brazilian environmental agency) outside of Sepetiba Bay, 56 km from the construction site. In the case of contaminated materials, the solution is using Geotube® bags, which are 65 m long, 18 m wide and 2.4 m high.
The bags are placed in the Chemical Contaminants Decanting Unit (UDCQ) in a specially built basin, 13 m deep, 255 m long and 130 m wide, fully protected by an HDPE (high-density polyethylene) lining and a layer of gravel. The process goes like this: the dredged material is suctioned and discharged from the seabed and pumped via a pipeline onto the shore, where it goes through a treatment unit. To start out the treatment process, a polymer is injected through ionization in order to “flocculate” the dredged material and allow it to be filtered. Then the material will go through a pipeline and be released into the bags.
“These bags retain heavy metals, allowing the treated effluent to pour through the fabric so it can return to the sea free of contaminants,” says Sérgio Pinheiro, Odebrecht’s Director for Maritime Projects. Finally, the bags will be covered with a layer of soil for protection to prevent contaminants from polluting the environment.
The Prosub-EBN project will also make an important contribution to the professional education of local workers. Currently, 3,000 people are working on the construction project. More than 2,000 people will have learned new job skills through the Ongoing Professional Education Program – Acreditar (Believe) by the time the Shipyard and Naval Base are completed in 2015.