In 1987 the Spanish government began to study the possibility to build a pilot project for nuclear waste storage near Portugal’s border. The site for the proposed project was Aldeadávila de la Ribera (Zamora, Spain), a village located in the basin of the International Douro and 4 km from the Portuguese border on the Douro River, which at the time was water provider for roughly half of the 10 million Portuguese.See more...
Experts on the matter criticized the selected site since they were worried about technical conditions such as seismo-tectonic criteria and the granite’s permeability. They feared that the pilot laboratory and the highly active nuclear waste sheltered on this stone, would not ensure the required isolation for 50.000-500.000 years, depending on the life span of some isotopes contained in such waste and its decay to harmless levels for people and the environment. In addition, the compliance with seismotectonic stability criteria of the International Douro domain, where Aldeadávila is located, was also a restraint.
The project requested further investment of US$ 5.6 million in European Community funds. This hypothesis led to street protests where about 3.000 people participated in Zamora. And just a day later, there were already about 30.000 Spanish and Portuguese protesting in Salamanca, located halfway between the border and Madrid, under the slogan ''We want hospitals, culture and progress – we don’t want to be Europe’s nuclear waste dump". At this time, the project was suspended till further studies.
Eleven years later, in 1998, the demonstrations returned following a complaint made by the Antinuclear and Environmentalist Committee of Salamanca claiming the border area was again under consideration as a possible storage site. The Association of Municipalities of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro promoted a march on foot by the riverbank inside the Portuguese Douro International area. Spanish and Portuguese wanted to draw attention to the fact that Aldeadávila was inside an international conservation unit: a natural park. At the origin of this objection was the law under discussion in the Spanish Senate, which would give full powers to Spain’s National Radioactive Waste Company-ENRESA to impose the location of a nuclear cemetery.
The Spanish Government, through ENRESA, attempted since then to find a solution for the nuclear waste storage. Some of the Portuguese mayors of Bragança district, near the border, suggested that the appropriate decision is to find a location closer to where nuclear energy is used, like Catalonia or Madrid. For the moment the project has been cancelled due to strong protests and safety measures and a permanent storage solution remains to be found.
The same region is also a site of interest for uranium exploration. In 2013, the Portuguese ecologist Party-“Os Verdes” presented a petition to Parliament questioning the ongoing licensing process of a uranium mine project, in the region of Salamanca (about 100 km from the Portuguese border), by Berkeley Minera España, S.A., without any environmental impact study. Simultaneously the same company also requested the reopening of the Retortillo-Santidad mines (near the frontier and in a Special Protection Area for birds and Site of Community Importance).
The debate about nuclear risks, involving both nuclear waste storage and uranium mining, near the Spanish border in Portugal is still ongoing. In 2014, a round table on the theme "Uranium mining in Salamanca. Health effects: the Portuguese experience ", organized by the Spanish ecologist Party-EQUO and by the “Platform Stop Uranium" was attended by members of the Association of Former Workers of Uranium Mines and the Association of Uranium Mining Areas.