Abandoned uranium mines, Portugal

Uranium mined in Portugal since 1913 leaves a legacy of diseases, radioactivity and environmental contamination. Struggles and reclamations continue til today


In 1913, Uranium exploitation began in Portugal in the mines Urgeiriça, Canas de Senhorim (Viseu) and ore processing infrastructure was also built in the area that holds the most important reserves of uranium. The year 1949 was crucial for the uranium industry produced in Portugal. The country signed an agreement with England that preceded the beginning of the Cold War and encouraged the exploitation of 4,370 tons of uranium oxide in 61 mines spread over the districts of Guarda, Viseu and Coimbra, most of them small. Currently all of them are disabled and have gone through a dangerous state of abandonment.

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Basic Data
NameAbandoned uranium mines, Portugal
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Tailings from mines
Specific CommoditiesUranium
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsUrgeiriça was the site of the National Company of Uranium-ENU, responsible, since 1977, for the exploitation of all uranium mines in Portugal. The dissolution of this company began in 2001. On December 31st, 2003 the Urgeiriça mine was closed.
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population4000
Start Date01/01/2001
Company Names or State EnterprisesEmpresa Nacional de Urânio (ENU) from Portugal
Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro (EDM) from Portugal
Relevant government actorsInstituto Nacional de Saúde Doutor Ricardo Jorge-INSA
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAssociação de Zonas Uraníferas (AZU)

Movimento de Restauração do Concelho de Canas de Senhorim (MRCCS)

Colective (present) and former workers from ENUC
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingArtisanal miners
Industrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Development of alternative proposals
Land occupation
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Mine tailing spills, Desertification/Drought, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Air pollution, Genetic contamination, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)
OtherContamination of the houses.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
OtherUAn epidemiological study on uranium exposure suffered by all population of Nelas municipality's (2002) concluded that there was a higher mortality from malignant neoplasms of the trachea, bronchus and lung and the possibility that this excess was related to the exploitation of uranium in Urgeiriça. The MinUrar study (2007) concluded that the population of Canas de Senhorim showed a decrease in thyroid function, reproductive ability of men and women and the number of red and white cells and platelets in the blood.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Land dispossession
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseApplication of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
New legislation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Institutional changes
Development of AlternativesAnalyse impacts on health and repair mines.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The environmental recovery of areas degraded by uranium mining have been carried out and the employees of ENU (at the time of dissolution as well as former ones) got equivalence to fund mine workers, taking advantage of the determinations relating to retirement. There were epidemiological studies in the affected population.
Sources and Materials

Decree Law n.º 28/2005, concedendo a equiparação de fundo de mina aos trabalhadores que, à data da dissolução da ENU, mantinham um vínculo profissional com a empresa.
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Decree Law n.198-A/2001 de 6 de Julho. Estabelece a recuperação das áreas mineiras degradadas.
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MENDES, José, M.; ARAÚJO, Pedro. Nuclearidade, trabalho dos corpos e justiça. A requalificação ambiental das minas da Urgeiriça e os protestos locais. Sociologia, Problemas e Práticas, v. 64, p. 81-105, 2010.
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MENDES, José, M.; ARAÚJO, Pedro. As minas de urânio em França e em Portugal in MENDES et al (Coord.) Risco, cidadania e Estado num mundo globalizado, CES da Universidade de Coimbra, Contexto, 3, Dezembro de 2013.
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FALÇÃO, José, M.; DIAS, Carlos, M.; NOGUEIRA, Paulo, J. Mortalidade por neoplasias malignas na população residente próximo de minas de urânio em PT. Epidemiologia, v. 20, n. 2, p. 35-51, Jul./Dez. 2002.
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MENDES, José Manuel de Oliveira. “Só é vencido quem deixa de lutar”: Protesto e Estado democrático em Portugal. Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, nº 72, Out. 2005, 161-185.
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MENDES, José M. de O. A Beira town in protest: memory, populismo in democracy. South European Society and Politics, v. 9, n. 2, p. 98-131, 2004.
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News article (2004). CORREIO DA MANHÃ. Antigos mineiros da Urgeiriça em vigília voltam a exigir indemnizações. Correio da Manhã, 17 May
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News article (2004). CORREIO DA MANHÃ. Canas de Senhorim volta aos protestos. Correio da Manhã, Nov. .
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News article (2009). CORREIO DA MANHÃ. Seladas 32 minas antigas. Correio da Manhã, 27 oct.
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NUCLEAR POWER: No thanks: no uranium mining in Alentejo.
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Media Links

Reportagem RTP Minas da Urgeiriça
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Protests, Brussels
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From Chernobyl to Urgeiriça!
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Contaminated houses
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Other Documents

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Other CommentsThere are 66 mines in Coimbra, Guarda and Viseu district.

Main sites' coordinates:

Canas do Senhorim, Nelas: 40.508788, -7.907894

Nisa, Alentejo: GPS 39.31467, 7.385368


Tábua: 40.320839,-8.100470
Meta Information
ContributorFrancisco Fernandes, Inês Ribeiro and Lays Silva
Last update23/03/2015