Where natural resources abound, large international corporations plant their flag; and against the same argument of generating employment or wealth, they destroy entire ecosystems, generate high volumes of pollution, harm the primary source of income for the local inhabitants and harm the health of families in nearby communities.
This would seem to be a formula that is replicated, with increasing frequency, in different parts of the world. This time it was Spain’s turn, where the mining company Berkeley Minera España SA (a subsidiary of the Australian company Berkeley Resources Ltd) will develop a uranium extraction and processing project in the municipalities of Retortillo, Villavieja de Yeltes and Alameda de Gardón. “Retortillo-Santidad” and “Alameda” will be the only open pit uranium mines allowed in Europe.
And it will do so, affecting part of the Natura 2000 Network, made up of special conservation areas that house habitats such as meadows and forests, and is home to endangered species, such as the golden eagle, the black stork or the leper pond turtle.
However, as paradoxical as this may seem, the project obtained the exploitation permit from the Junta de Castilla y León, and the plant to treat the extracted uranium that will be built received authorization from the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism.
Organizations such as WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) denounce the damage that this mine will generate at the environmental, economic-local and public health levels.
Among the environmental damages that could be generated are: the destruction of an area of the Natura 2000 Network; the increase in the contaminant load (with its radioactive risk), decrease in flows and modification in the Yeltes River, as well as in the Huebras and Uces Rivers and their tributaries; the damage caused by the mega-blasts; the contamination of surface and groundwater with chemicals and radioactive material; and the extinction of a protected species of fish, called sarda salmantina, unique to the Yeltes and Huebra rivers, and whose population has fallen by 67% during this century.
According to WWF, these impacts have not been considered by the Junta de Castilla y León and the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism when approving the project.
Regarding health, the WWF points out that: “In addition to the environmental destruction that the project entails, WWF considers it very worrying that a project has been approved without evaluating the risks of radioactive waste for the human population: the presence of dust and particles radioactive waste in the air, storage of radioactive waste with risks of seepage into the river or aquifer or breakage of rafts, among others”.
When uranium rock is ground it releases a gas trapped in it (radon). This, added to radioactive dust and other residues from its processing, have carcinogenic effects and can travel long distances on the wind.
This, of course, added to the risk of the workers of the mine itself, one of the most toxic industrial activities that exist.
At an economic level, the company promises 200 jobs and presents itself as a solution for neighboring communities, but mega-mining endangers other productive sectors, causing the economic valuation of neighbors’ properties to drop; and extraction is expected to last only 10 years. During that time, the mine can destroy around 1,000 direct jobs among ranchers, employees of a spa in the town of Retortillo, and tourism companies within a radius of 30 km.
In Europe there are only uranium mines in the Czech Republic and Romania; all uranium mines in western Europe were closed. In addition, countries such as France or Portugal have abandoned this activity due to its high environmental impact and low profitability.
What is behind all this? In addition to large amounts of money at the cost of great damage, it is no coincidence that after Donald Trump’s declarations of wanting to expand his nuclear capacity, companies like Berkeley are preparing to provide them.
Currently, it is believed that the activities of the mine will begin in 2018. However, the National High Court decides the legality of the mine and investigates the prior authorization granted by the Ministry of Industry in September 2015. In addition, the European Commission It is also investigating “whether Union Law has been correctly applied” in the Environmental Impact Statement signed by the Junta de Castilla y León.
In the current report, the effects of radioactive waste are hardly mentioned and its consequences have already been seen in different regions of the world.
You can sign the Change.org petition and help prevent open pit uranium mining from being allowed in Salamanca.