Mounting tension between Portugal and Spain over uranium mine

An open cast uranium mine could soon be constructed in north west Spain, just a stone’s throw from the border with Portugal. NGOs and the Portuguese government have opposed the plans as they it will be damaging to nature and local communities.

Back in 2013, the Spanish municipality of Castilla y Leon gave the green light to the construction of a uranium mine in Salamanca, Spain, without ordering an evaluation into how the plans would affect the environment.

Ever since, NGOs and the Portuguese government have been trying to stop the mine project which they say would threaten both the environment and human health if it goes ahead.

Mining projects are regulated by European laws and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are required in certain circumstances. An EIA is an assessment of how a project will impact the environment. According to EU law, when it comes to mining there is no obligation to conduct an EIA and the member state is in charge of determining if there is a need for one.

But the Spanish government decided to exempt Berkeley, the company behind the project, from having to carry out an EIA – a move criticised by activists who have raised their voices against the uranium mine

The risks associated with construction of the mine are numerous, according to WWF Espana:

“The construction of the mine and the associated water intake and discharges put the situation of the already altered Yeltes River at serious risk, with an increase in the pollution load, partly due to radioactive risk, a decrease in flows and a morphological alteration of the river.”

Ecologistas en Accion also highlighted the fact that the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council (CNS) was not consulted in the process:

“This study should have been carried out by the CNS, which is the highest authority in nuclear safety and radiation protection in our country.”

The Portuguese government agrees with the NGOs’ positions and is concerned about the impacts of the project on the Portuguese population – the planned mine would be located just 50km from the border.

The Portuguese Parliament also recently voiced its opposition to the project in a vote on the matter.

According to the Spanish newspaper Publico, pressure is mounting on the new government in Madrid, with Portuguese authorities now demanding a special ‘transborder EIA’ to assess the risks in both countries.

Publico also reports that José Sarrión, the general coordinator of the United Left of Castilla y Leon party, asked Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to be coherent and to stop the project once and for all. He said:

“The contrary would be a symptom of irrationality, because there is no reason why these types of mines that are being closed across Europe because they are dangerous should be allowed to open here”