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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 mining began in Portugal in the Urgeiriça and Canas de Senhorim (Viseu) mines. Infrastructure for ore processing was also built in the area in which the country's largest reserves of uranium are located. The year 1949 was crucial for Portugal's uranium industry: the country signed an agreement with England prior to the Cold War for the exploitation of 4,370 tons of uranium oxide in 61 mines (most were small) located in the districts of Guarda, Viseu, and Coimbra. Currently, all of them are closed and in a dangerous state of abandonment.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Abandoned 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 commodities:Uranium
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Urgeiriça 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
Affected Population:4000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2001
Company names or state enterprises:Empresa Nacional de Urânio (ENU) from Portugal
Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro (EDM) from Portugal
Relevant government actors:Instituto Nacional de Saúde Doutor Ricardo Jorge-INSA
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação Ambiente em Zonas Uraníferas (AZU)
Colective (present) and former workers from ENU-ATMU
Movimento de Restauração do Concelho de Canas de Senhorim (MRCCS)
Movimento Ibérico Anti-Nuclear-MIA
Movimento Urânio em Nisa Não-MUNN
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Industrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
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)
Other Environmental impactsContamination 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
Other Health impactsUAn 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-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:Analyse impacts on health and repair mines.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

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.
[click to view]

Decree Law n.198-A/2001 de 6 de Julho. Estabelece a recuperação das áreas mineiras degradadas.
[click to view]


Decree law. AR. Lei n. 10/2016, 4 de abril de 2016. Estabelece o direito a uma compensação por morte emergente de doença profissional dos trabalhadores da Empresa Nacional de Urânio, S. A.
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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.
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]


JANELA, José. Contra a exploração do urânio em Nisa: uma luta vitoriosa. pp.34-38. In: LUSA. Recuperação das minas de urânio de Ázere, Tábua. 22 dez. 2016.
[click to view]


BRAVIN, Adriana; FERNANDES, Lúcia (orgs.). Diferentes formas de dizer não: expressões de conflitos ambientais em Portugal e na América do Sul. Cescontexto debates, n. 17. Centro de Estudos Sociais- CES da Universidade de Coimbra- UC. Mai. 2017.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

News article (2004). CORREIO DA MANHÃ. Canas de Senhorim volta aos protestos. Correio da Manhã, Nov. .
[click to view]

News article (2009). CORREIO DA MANHÃ. Seladas 32 minas antigas. Correio da Manhã, 27 oct.
[click to view]

News article (2004). CORREIO DA MANHÃ. Antigos mineiros da Urgeiriça em vigília voltam a exigir indemnizações. Correio da Manhã, 17 May
[click to view]

NUCLEAR POWER: No thanks: no uranium mining in Alentejo.
[click to view]


News Article. FERREIRA, Lurdes. Um país a limpar minas radioativas durante 21 anos. PÚBLICO, 6 fev. 2017.
[click to view]


AZU. AZU Ambiente Zonas Uraníferas. Facebook. 2016.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network


Protests, Brussels
[click to view]


Contaminated houses
[click to view]

Reportagem RTP Minas da Urgeiriça
[click to view]

From Chernobyl to Urgeiriça!
[click to view]


PaeM - Mineração de Urânio – Canas de Senhorim (2017)
[click to view]


PAEM - Mineração de Urânio: O Tema (2017)
[click to view]


PaeM - Mineração Urânio – Nisa (2017)
[click to view]


Manifestação contra eventual exploração de urânio em Nisa reúne mais de 300 pessoas
[click to view]

Other comments:There 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
Contributor:Francisco Fernandes, Inês Ribeiro and Lays Silva
Last update18/08/2019
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