Illegal radioactive thorianite mining in Amapá, Brasil

Thorianite is a radioactive mineral rich in thorium, uranium and lead isotopes, probably used for its lead content, refrigeration of nuclear reactors and to produce neutron bombs. Illegal extraction threatens local communities´s health


Description

Thorianite is a radioactive mineral rich in thorium, uranium and lead isotopes. In Brazil, thorianite is abundant in the country’s most northern state of Amapá, mainly at the Araguari’s river basin in the Tumucumaque National Park. The mineral was first discovered in Amapá in the 80s and started being illegally extracted by artisanal miners (known as garimpeiros). According to Brasil’s legislation, the exploitation of radioactive ores is a Federal Government’s monopoly. Despite of this, Thorianite’s illegal trade is common in the region. It is carried by smugglers and facilitated by loose surveillance from different local and national institutions. Furthermore, its similarity to tantalite, a mineral used as an alloy for cutting-edge industries, makes it easier to convey without being noticed. In the black market, smugglers can sell a kilogram of thorianite for approximately 300 USD. Most of it is thought to cross the nearby border with French Guyana, where it is later sent to different destinations such as China, Russia or North Korea. Due to its composition (approximately 80% throrium, 4-8% uranium and 10% radiogenic lead), thorianite may be used for different purposes. According to an ex director from Brazil’s National Commission for Nuclear Energy (CNEN), the most probable scenario is that thorianite is being smuggled for its lead content, used in the refrigeration of nuclear reactors and to produce neutron bombs. In the early 2000s, the Federal Police (FP) has initiated a series of investigations that unveiled a complex network behind the ore’s smuggling from Brazil. As a result, they were able to apprehend different quantities of thorianite between 2004 and 2008. Since then, the FP has suspended any further operations until CNEN builds a deposit for the material apprehended. Amapá’s police representatives have stated that storing any further thorianite in the battalion’s headquarters in Santana is putting them and the nearby population at risk of high exposure to the radioactive material. They demand the construction of a deposit to keep thorianite before the CNEM takes it to another location. So far, the Nuclear Energy Commission has not proposed any solution to this problem and even claimed the matter is beyond their responsibilities. Moreover, a CNEM’s spokesperson has stated that there is no risk to the population as long as they do not manipulate it frequently.  Nonetheless, there have also been reports of children playing in places where the mineral is stored. So far, CNEM has limited its action to alert local people of the risks they expose themselves when handling the material. Even if further studies are required, frequent exposure and manipulation of thorianite carries a potential risk of health damage, namely the development of cancer. This fact has caused some apprehension on communities close to CNEM’s headquarters in the central State of Minas Gerais, where some of the confiscated thorianite is being taken. There have been protests in front of the Municipal Assembly with people expressing their worries about storing conditions and what CNEM’s does with the radioactive material.

Basic Data
NameIllegal radioactive thorianite mining in Amapá, Brasil
CountryBrazil
ProvinceAmapá
SitePorto Grande, Serra do Navio e Pedra Branca
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Uranium extraction
Specific CommoditiesUranium
Torianite
Project Details and Actors
Project Details-The main world producers of torianite are Sri Lanka and Madagascar. Only France and China have the technology for thorium enrichment.

-The price goes up to U$ 300,00 by kilogram.

-Nuclear Industries of Brazil (INB) estimate that Amapá has one of the largest uranium reserves in the world.
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date2004
Relevant government actorsIndústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB), Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear (CNEN), Polícia Federal (PF), Serviço de Inteligência do Exército

(Ciex), Agência Brasileira de Informações (Abin), Batalhão Ambiental (BA),
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersLocal communities
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationPublic campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Genetic contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Deaths
OtherSpecific impact on children due to their proximity to potentially radioactive material
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseApplication of existing regulations
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Sources and Materials
Legislations

Draft-Law (PL 4957/2009) to penalize the smuggling with radiactive material.

References

DIAGNÓSTICO DO SETOR MINERAL DO ESTADO DO AMAPÁ
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Torianita do Amapá
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Links

Mineração ilegal de torianita em municípios do Amapá
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Minério Radioativo vendido sem controle
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Minério radioativo causa polêmica no Amapá
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Minério radioativo é extraído sem fiscalização no AP, diz PF
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FIOCRUZ MAP "Falta de transparência e responsabilidade sobre minério radioativo deixa população do norte do Amapá em estado de alerta"
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Traficantes do Amapá vendem material radioativo obtido ilegalmente
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O contrabando do urânio brasileiro
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Tragédia e sofrimento na riqueza mineral brasileira
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PF encontra 600 kg de minério radioativo no Amapá
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PF encontra 600 kg de minério radioativo no Amapá
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Other Documents

Thorianita
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Meta Information
ContributorEnvJustice Project
Last update11/10/2017
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