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Abandoned uranium mines, Portugal


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.

Based in Urgeiriça, the Empresa Nacional do Urânio (ENU, National Uranium Company) had been responsible for the exploitation of all uranium mines in Portugal since 1977. The process to dissolve the company began in 2001. On December 31, 2003, the Urgeiriça mine was closed, leaving behind large socio-environmental liabilities. This gave rise to the fight for compensation and the organization of anti-uranium groups and numerous protests throughout the country. In central Portugal, 115 of the 500 former uranium company employees have died due to health problems from working in unsafe conditions.

Parliamentary Resolution nº. 34/2001, of March 29, recommended that the government take measures to solve the problem of radioactivity in the waste and the abandoned uranium mines in the districts of Coimbra, Viseu, and Guarda. Its main recommendations were to actively monitor the communities of all three districts to minimize the risks related to radioactivity and chemical pollution and to provide former ENU employees a pension and compensation to guarantee them adequate living conditions (there were 40 workers on staff when the company closed). The Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro (EDM, Mining Development Enterprise) was created as a public enterprise by Decree-Law 198A/2001. It is responsible for the environmental restoration of areas that have been degraded by mining in the country.

In 2002, former ENU employees and community members created the Ambiente em Zonas Uraníferas – Associação Ambiental (AZU, the Environment in Uranium Zones –Environmental Association). The association defended the need for an epidemiological study to investigate the relationship between uranium mining in the region and the high incidence of cancer in the population.

At this point, a study on the effects of uranium exposure on the entire population of Nelas concluded that the rate of mortality from 'malignant neoplasm of the trachea, bronchi, and lungs' was high It also confirmed the possibility that this increase was related to uranium mining in Urgeiriça (Viseu), but could not rule out other causes. In 2004, several demonstrations were held in Canas de Senhorim, involving confrontations with police.

In November 2007, a new wave of demonstrations took place. Former ENU workers held a vigil in front of city hall in Viseu to demand compensation. In Nisa (Alentejo), AZU supported the protest movement led by the population and local associations, also backed by the local authorities, in opposition to the uranium mining project. In June 2007, they created the civic movement Movimento Urânio em Nisa Não (MUNN, No to Uranium in Nisa), which is still active today.

In April 2008, the works began to clean up Barragem Velha, the waste storage site of the Urgeiriça mines.

In September 2010, a new law was approved, which provides surface miners compensation to ensure that they had the right to early retirement regardless of how long they had worked for ENU. Adopted in April, 2016, law no 10/2016 established the right of ENU workers to compensation for death caused by occupational diseases.

In 2015, the Movimento Ibérico Anti-nuclear (Iberian Anti-nuclear Movement) was created to fight for the closure of the nuclear energy plants on the Iberian Peninsula (namely Almaraz) and address other problems related to the nuclear industry such as uranium mining or waste management.

According to data from February 2017, works are still pending for 20 of the 61 mines, which fall under the scope of Parliamentary Resolution nº. 34/2001. The deadline for their conclusion is 2022. Only 2 of the over 3 million tons of waste from the Barragem Velha site have been treated.

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 and 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

Impacts of the project

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 and 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.

Decree Law n.198-A/2001 de 6 de Julho. Estabelece a recuperação das áreas mineiras degradadas.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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

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

News article (2009). CORREIO DA MANHÃ. Seladas 32 minas antigas. Correio da Manhã, 27 oct.

NUCLEAR POWER: No thanks: no uranium mining in Alentejo.


AZU. AZU Ambiente Zonas Uraníferas. Facebook. 2016.


News Article. FERREIRA, Lurdes. Um país a limpar minas radioativas durante 21 anos. PÚBLICO, 6 fev. 2017.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network


Protests, Brussels


Contaminated houses

Reportagem RTP Minas da Urgeiriça

From Chernobyl to Urgeiriça!


PAEM - Mineração de Urânio: O Tema (2017)


PaeM - Mineração de Urânio – Canas de Senhorim (2017)


PaeM - Mineração Urânio – Nisa (2017)


Manifestação contra eventual exploração de urânio em Nisa reúne mais de 300 pessoas

Other documents

Fonte: MUNN.


Fonte: MUNN.

Fonte: MUNN.


Fonte: MUNN.


Fonte: MUNN.

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 update18/04/2018




Diário As Beiras, 14 Dezembro, 2013






NEW Fonte: MUNN.

NEW Fonte: MUNN.