Argentina is considering the development of "nuclear propulsion" for its diesel-engine submarines, Defence minister Arturo Puricelli said.
The initiative follows a request from President Cristina Fernandez and is closely linked to Brazil's construction of a first nuclear powered submersible with French technology.
"President Cristina has requested us to come up with a nuclear propulsion development project for our submarines" said Defence minister Puricelli during a press conference.
He added that Argentina had the "capacity to develop nuclear propulsion for submarines".
"This means that when the submarine "ARA Santa Fe" which has been waiting for some years leaves the shipyard she will not do it with its original propulsion but with nuclear propulsion developed in Argentina", the Defence Ministry clarified in a statement following the minister's announcement.
Puricelli also revealed that another submarine "ARA San Juan" is already half re-furbished, "after spending years virtually idle and non operational".
The Argentine project for a "submarine with nuclear propulsion and conventional weapons" was actually launched a year ago when it was anticipated that Argentina was working on the possibility of developing a nuclear reactor to install in submarines, defence sources said.
Argentina's National Atomic Energy Commission and the National Institute for space and nuclear technology apparently have already finished designing the CAREM reactor so that it can be adapted to the prototype of the future submarine -the TR model - one of the three that were purchased by Argentina in the eighties from Germany's Thyssen.
Still partly in crates in the Domecq Garcia shipyard the "ARA Santa Fe" apparently has been 75% assembled after spending over two decades "resting" in dozens of containers.
Latest estimates are that it should be ready as a conventional submarine for 2015 and from then on efforts will be concentrated in the instalment of the nuclear reactor.
However there have been warnings from undisclosed Argentine naval sources which consider the project 'pharaonic and disproportionate' given current budget resources for Defence plus the fact that the TR hull is "unviable in space and density to lodge a nuclear reactor".
Nuclear power allows submarines to move faster and have greater autonomy than those propelled by the conventional diesel-electric engines, defence sources said.
In mid July Brazil formally announced the beginning of the construction in Rio shipyards of the first of four conventional French Scorpone submarines, at a cost of US$565 million each, which should be operational by 2016.
Following on the conventional units Brazil will begin the construction of its first nuclear powered submarine with French technology, as a result of the nuclear cooperation agreement signed by President Nicholas Sarkozy with his counterpart then, Lula da Silva.
Brazil is beefing up its naval (surface and submersible) and air resources in anticipation of the development of its massive offshore hydrocarbons resources, defence sources said.