Status: Venezuela has a weak science infrastructure, little nuclear expertise, and limited funding. However, President Hugo Chávez's stated goal of developing civilian nuclear power may yet come to fruition with a little help from his friends.
Why you should worry: Despite a distinct lack of material progress, there's reason to worry about Venezuela's nuclear ambitions. Venezuela and Russia have had an increasingly close relationship, signing a number of economic, energy, and military cooperation agreements in recent years. Since 2005, Venezuela has purchased more than $4 billion dollars worth of Russian arms, and last month Russia provided a $2.2 billion loan for additional arms purchases. Venezuela has also become one of Iran's most active supporters; Chávez has taken to the international stage to cheer on Iran's own nuclear development and last month announced he would begin sending the Islamic Republic 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day to undermine sanctions efforts.
Those relationships seem to be paying off for Chávez's nuclear ambitions, which he first announced in 2005. Venezuela has created an atomic energy commission with Russia, designed specifically to jump-start its nuclear program. And Iran is now assisting Venezuela in detecting and testing uranium deposits; Venezuelan officials estimate that there are 50,000 tons of untapped uranium in the country.
"I say it before the world: Venezuela is going to start the process of developing nuclear energy, but we're not going to make an atomic bomb, so don't be bothering us afterward ... [with] something like what they have against Iran," Chávez has said. Given the Venezuelan leader's recent military buying spree and the escalating war of words with neighboring Colombia, such assurances might not carry much weight with his foreign critics or the IAEA. As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nima Gerami and Sharon Squassoni write, "Those states and companies that would contemplate nuclear cooperation with the Chávez government should consider whether they might help recreate the alarming history of Iran's nuclear program and subsequent international crises."