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English Report

Municipalities from the semi-arid sertão region of Bahia suffer from the noxious socio-environmental impacts caused by the Nuclear Industries of Brazil – INB – responsible for the mineral-industrial complex Lagoa Real/Caetité, which produces uranium for Brazilian nuclear plants.  The inhabitants of the region have expressed concern over the announcement in Brazilian energy policy to reactivate the nuclear program, including plants located in the Northeast.   More than a dozen "usual nuclear events" and various paralyses of activity, which could add up to more than two years of inactivity, unmask the technical and administrative challenges that the INB faces in order to simultaneously operate the system safely and lucratively.   What's more, these events only feed into doubts regarding the scientific competence of the business to handle such a dangerous product.

Bahiana region suffers from the impacts of uranium production for nuclear plants

Zoraide Villasboas [1]

Humanity has been startled by a wave of atomic bomb tests, proof of growing use of nuclear technology towards military ends.   Meanwhile, the populations of Caetité (46,000 inhabitants) and Lagoa Real (13,000 inhabitants), municipalities of the semi-arid Bahian sertão region enclosed in the Polígono das Secas and integrated into the Hidrographic Basins of the São Francisco and Contas Rivers, suffer from the noxious socio-environmental impacts caused by the Nuclear Industries of Brazil (INB).   INB is responsible for the mineral-industrial complex Lagoa Real/Caetité, which produces uranium for Brazilian nuclear plants.

Far away atomic explosions instigate the popular imagination of the populace, which already faces the effects of living with the only Unit of Uranium Concentrate – URA – active in the country.   This plant works with no transparency, unjustifiable due to its supposed civil character and pacific ends.  As the consequences of the irresponsible use of this technology have already been felt, the inhabitants of the region have expressed concern over the announcement in Brazilian energy policy to reactivate the nuclear program, including the construction of plants in the Northeast.  

The INB is a private-public partnership, which produces products and services related to the cycle of nuclear combustion.   URA-Caetité was activated in 2000, without an operating license from IBAMA (the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources).  It began with barely a property license, granted by the State Council for the Protection of the Environment – CEPRAM – which established 37 conditions, such as condition 2.12 (to monitor the health of workers and surrounding population) and condition 2.8 (hydrogeologic tests).  If these conditions were not to be met, it would challenge the institutions of control and fiscal responsibility, causing revolt in the population.

THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION – Financed by technicians of the National Commission on Nuclear Energy – CNEN – which promotes nuclear activity and is responsible for the budget of nuclear projects, the INB is accused of disrepsecting the Principles of Precaution and Prevention, consecrated in environmental legislation, and infringing upon human rights, such as the right to health and work safety. It has been sued for violating international conventions on nuclear safety, the constitutional principals of Activity Control, Democratic Control, Objective Responsibility, and the Right to Information.   Due to its original link with militarism, the company is considered strategic, functioning without transparency or social accountability.

The phase of optimism and confidence in a promising future having passed— a hope which characterized the arrival of the company to the region and the first four years of activity— the beginning of 2004 saw operational errors that brought an avalanche of questions, lack of confidence, and frustration.   The weight on the environment of transporting uranium in the summer of that year put the company on defensive against the pressures of society, the vigilance of unions, and even criticisms of past allies, all of whom yearned to know about the operations "from the inside".   A consensus was formed that the situation could not be sustained atop the threat of "secretive technology".  The participation of civil society and public powers became necessary in order to clarifty the processes of nuclear combustion and decommissioning, not only due to the effects of the radiation, but also   from the quantities of rejections from the area.

The law determines that adminsitrative acts are public and should be widely divulged.   But in the URA, which is in the Caetité district of Maniaçu, censorship of information is strongly imposed, internally and externally.  In 2004, the team of Preventative Integral Fiscalization of the São Francisco Basin, which sued the company for various irregularities, was almost barred from entering its installations.   A blockade of information closed down upon the team.  To such an extent that the municipality only knew of the extension of dumpings of containers, occurred in the beginning of 2004, eight months later, with the diffusion, in Brasília, of the fiscal report of CNEN (National Commission on Nuclear Energy), that suggested the interruption of mineral activities due to risk of dumping and suspicion of possible water contamination.   The inexistence of a hydrogeologic study that proves the lack of contamination of the surface water, leaves the threat to animal and plant life up in the air.

The fiscal proposal was rejected by the president of CNEN, Odair Gonçalves, who was also president of the Administrative Council of INB, for whom suspending mineral activity would do more harm than good.   This declaration revealed the company's choice of profit over a democratic and humanitarian posture of protecting the population and the environment. Society questions the independence of the CNEN in its fiscalization of the INB, of which it is a majority partner, and would like to separate these institutions.   They understand that, without transparency and social accountability to the most diverse levels of civil and public organizations, the risk is enormous of privileging only these economic interests. Divorcing these two entities is defended by society and the members of the Public Ministry, as well as the Promotor of the State of Bahia in Caetité, Jailson Trindade (1) :

(...) Our work has not been oriented by the larger principal of controlling the environmental question, the principal of prevention, rather we've always run backwards. (...)

(...) It is a crucial point, to give autonomy, through federal legislation, and break this link that exists, I wouldn't say an incestual link, but this relation that exists between the CNEN and INB, this is fundamental, because when we go to investigate a dumping the capacities end up being performed in the CNEN, since the conditions to perform them don't exist in Bahia.

LACK OF CARE FOR SAFETY – Knowing the sócio-environmental consequences caused by tragedies that occur around the world, such as Chernobyl, society fears the effects that mineral activity offers in the long term, since those who handle nuclear substances are subject to cancerous radiation.   The fear is justified because in six years of operation, the URA-Caetité has presented consistent mistakes that deserve inquiry, lawsuits, and fines by professional environmental organizations.   More than a dozen "usual nuclear events – ENU" and various paralyses of activity, which could add up to more than two years of inactivity, unmask the technical and administrative challenges that the INB faces in order to simultaneously operate the system safely and lucratively.   What's more, these events only feed into doubts regarding the scientific competence of the business to handle such a dangerous product.








Dumping of 5000 m3 of uranium sludge, denounced 6 months later and only attested to 3 years later


" insignificant"

CRA applies the maximum fine;

State Pubilc Ministry instals civil pacific action;

Activities suspended from November/00 to July/01

Socioenvironmental NGOs ask the Federal Public Minstry for an integral, independent, and multidisciplinary audit.


Dumping in area 170,
performed in secret

Possible contamination of surface water

Federal Public Ministry advocates the MPE to listen to the accusations.




96 tons of uranium concentrate   are registered in the Port of Salvador, with no authorization from any environmental body. 

Causes repercussions in the press and awakens society.

Federal Public Ministry follows the episode;

3a Promotion of the Environment by the Public MInistry of Bahia installs a civil investigation.  


Ship that brought enriched uranium from Canada to Rezende, Rio de Janeiro state, is retained 5 days in Salvador, where 170 tons of uranium were unloaded at Caetité.  

The situation causes port workers and the population to become restless.  

The Federal Public Ministry installs an investigation and advocates IBAMA-SSA to act towards avoiding risks to the port workers, to Baia de Todos os Santos, and to the population.   


Jan a


The basin of "delicate" transport transports spills, more than 7 times, liquid containing concentrates of uranium-238, torium-232, and radium-226,   into the environment.

Death of fish in the lagoons of Maniaçu (location of the mine), Vargem Grande, and Covas.   

Charge and fine from IBAMA-SSA due to the lack of meeting the conditions referring to the monitoring of workers' and the population's health and lack of hydrogeologic tests;  

State Public Ministry installs a civil investigation;

CODEVASF collects material for analyais;


Ship with enriched uranium headed to Rezende (RJ), enters Baia de Todos os Santos to pick up 250 tons of uranium from Caetité.  

Situation causes port workers and population to become restless.  

IBAMA-SSA fines INB for   R$ 1 million;

DILIC/IBAMA prohibits "partner operations" in the transport of uranium from Baia de Todos os Santos;  

1º Sem/06

Breach of one of the covers of the basin of uranium liquor, stopping activity for close to 60 days.   

Reduction of the population

Despite the lack of equipment for protection against radiation and military disputes, the CNEN renews the Initial Authorization for Operation – AOI.   


In the above chart the greatest occurrences, admitted to or not, by the company- such as accidents and "ENU" incidents- indicate the incompetence and lack of care for an installation that operates with potential risk for the population and for the environment.   In 2001, tests pointed to indeces of contamination in two ex-workers involved in an accident in 2000. In 2004, the polemical situation that revolved the loading of yellow-cake at the Port of Salvador, ended in a fine and prohibition by IBAMA of "partner operations", in the transporto f uranium through Baia de Todos os Santos, an important área of environmental protection.   From 2004 to 2006, operators were affected by uranium liquor, by uranium paste and by sulfuric acid (which denatures the proteins that constitute the human body, an irreversible process).

Despite being officially stopped for a year after the dumping of 5000
m3 of uranium liquor in April 2000 due to the rupture of protective covering, the press noted that URA did not suspend its activities, as the shipment of 84 tons of uranium to Canada proved in 2001. The accident occurred because the project of compacting the soil below the protective coverings did not occur according to the license that was obtained, according to IBAMA technician Sanra Miano(2) :

(...) The nuclear industries took a long time to admit they had a problem, complicating our investigation, until we asked for liquor tank 1401 to be emptied.(...)

  (...) We asked the tank to be emptied and to open the protective covering.  When the covering was opened, we saw that the compacting of soils had not been performed.   The executive project that we had approved had not been carried out, despite all companies being mandated to carry out the project that is approved.(...)

In January of this year alone, it was confirmed that the CNEN imposed a suspension of activities from August to December of the previous year, demanding studies on the safety of the plant installations.   Already this year, it was noted that the company works half-way and precariously due to the lack of committment to dependence on the CNEN, referring   to the repair projects in the basins and the lack of equipment for protection and safety against radiation, such as a detector of surface contamination.  Four years ago, 70 operators worked under grave, imminent risk next to the dig, placing them at risk for a great disaster. Only three of them had any specific training, and the Regulatory Norm 13 determined the paralysis of any plant in case of grave imminent risk.   It is worth registering that insurance does not exist for these workers of the URA.  This year, the Mineral Workers' Union sued INB in front of the Regional Delegation of Workers of Bahia and the Public Ministry of Labor for not having met the norms of the CLT and the ILO, especially in reference to Health and Job Safety Insurance (NR 4, 5, 13, 22). The company has 131 workers, 300 contract workers, and maintains the Registry of Autonomous Payment – RPA.

RIGHT TO HEALTH – In a public audience performed by the Executive Management I - IBAMA-BA, in April 2005 in Caetité, the population demanded an urgent inspection of the INB complex by a group of multidisciplinary, multi-institutional technicians, with representatives of civil society and accompaniment of the Federal and State Public Ministries.   They demanded, as well, that IBAMA only deliberate about the request of extension of the plant and renewal of the license, to have ended in October 2006, after hearing of the report of this inspection.   In the audience, the INB admitted that it had not performed the monitoring of workers' health nor of the communities, leaving the population more restless facing the risk of exposure to low doses, once the scientific studies proved that "there are no safe levels for exposure to ionizing radiation and radiation had other effects, beyond neoplasias such as cardiac arrest and cerebral vascular accidents" (3) . Ainda na Audiência, o quadro regional foi informado pelo coordenador do Programa de Avaliação e Vigilância do Câncer da Secretaria de Saúde da Bahia, Dr. Alexandre Will(4) :

(...) neoplasis present a growing tendency in the region among the principal causes of death. (...)

(...) the situation of câncer in the region should be seen in an integral way as a wider and more complex reality, as it is necessary to develop actions to monitor and accompany this illness, with the goal of detecting subtle changes in its behavior.   It is important to minimize the impact of this global pathology in the region, as well as reducing environmental, work-related, behavioral, and supportive risks.  

No diagnostic center for cancer exists in the region to detect environmental exposure to cancerous products, and new cases occur, including among the company's workers.   Because of this, Caetité and Lagoa Real received with enthusiasm the constitution of IBAMA-BA of the Commission of Accompaniment of the Activities of the INB, formed by representatives of social organizations and federal, state, and municipal health organizations, the proposal of which was an agreement between these entities and the INB in order to facilitate the monitoring of socio-environmental and health impacts on the workers and the population.

However, despite having assumed the committment of signing the agreement, the company blocked the initiative.   Instead of easing the proposal sent by IBAMA-BA in 2005, it met in August of this year with representatives of the 24th State Director of Health (Dires), and the municipal prefects and health secretaries of Caetité and Lagoa Real, proposing the signature of a Letter of Intention.   The document stated the intention of performing a licitation to contract an epidemilogical study covering the two muncipalities, evading the obligations of INB in that it binds the prefecture to certain actions.   This diligence is seen as an attempt to evade the actions of IBAMA-BA and to neutralize the pressures of civil society, that has demanded urgent and effective actions to tend to the effects of the accidents and to guarantee the compliance of the audience's recommendations.  

NEGLIGENCE TOWARDS THE WATER – The INB, that today owns 1850 hectares as the largest individual landowner ( latinfundio) of the lands of Caetité, has not implemented the Plan of Sustainable Development, suggested by the Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA-Rima – as a method of measuring the impact of the project, generating employment and income, nor has it implemented a plan of resettlement of the affected families, as research concluded in 2005 reveals:
"The discourse of advantages and benefits for those affected transformed into "a horror and nightmare" for 30% of the families transferred involuntarily. (5).

Today the deception contaminates even old allies – authorities from the three branches of government, politicians, and electoral bodies – who used their influence in society to suggest that the damages pointed out by the Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA/RIMA (1997) would be compensated by higher taxes, more jobs, more development.   But, disillusioned by the lack of counterparts promised by the Municipal Prefects, many waiver between a more firm action confronting the sócio-environmental damages caused in the region, according to the EIA-RIMA, and the hope of receiving industrial taxes on the production of yellow-cake, that INB does not pay to the municipality.

Also in rural areas the tendency towards clientelism prevails among community leaders who still dream in compensatory policies for the critical state of rural communities, who lack treated water, energy, health, and medical assistance.   The most affected populations by the suspected water contamination has had the impact of liberating radion into the atmosphere and the particles generated by uranium explosions and suffer from the rejection of their products from their communities at free markets.   The majority
came to depend on water, scarce and controlled by the company, consuming the resource from native artesanal wells and from the Vaca brook, that passes through the mine.  In the cities of Caetité and Lagoa Real, the water is treated by the Bahian Purifying Company – Embasa – which regularly feeding mineral water to representatives or workers from the mines, while untreated water is served through tanker to the workers, as the Secretary of Hydric Resources of Caetité, Joaquim Bandeira, says (6):

(...) In Carrapato, in Angico, near the Passagem de Areia, an older woman asked me for a tanker.   I responded that I would ask the INB and she responded: I don't want a tanker from the INB because their water is contaminated (...).

(...) In Mata, close to Maniaçu, they said that the dust that comes from the mine stuck to the houses, that the company was open, and it was going to contaminate people.   The community suffered from a terrible fear from this situation (...).

(...) There is no justification to leave here with the tankers, 40 kilometers from the área, to dump water 4 kilometers from the mine.   This social policy of the company needs to be worked in such a way that would support a policy of distribution of water to improve the conditions of life of the people of the region.

INSECURITY ABOUT THE FUTURE – On July 18th of this year, the Technical Chamber of IBAMA-BA approved the motion of the Ministry of the Environmenta (MMA) and the Licensing Division (DILIC) plus IBAMA, conditioning the renovation of the Operating License of the URA for the carrying out of the public audience and the determination of more rigid conditions to ensure a better quality of life for the communities, their workers, and environmental protection.   On September 18th of this year, the Minister of the Environment Marina Silva received, in Salvador, a copy of the report handed into the International pacto n Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights – PIDESC – and a requirement of urgent responsibilities to inhibit the activitities of the INB, in conditions which represent grave risks for humans and the environment" (7).

In the place of explanations due to society, an old triumphalist discourse prevails, always announcing the duplication of production, which creates fear ahead of signals of irresponsible administration and technical incompetence to lead the project.   In fact CNEN accused the INB of inability and negligence, but, contrary to its own safety norms, it renewed for the sixth time the Initial Operation Authorization – AOI, because the URA-Caetité did not meet the norms of protection against radiation and safety, that only led them to renewal of the AOI twice.   Some sectors believe that the announcement of production increases is only propaganda to maintain a quiet city, hoping for new employment, more wealth, since the INB would be drowned in administrative and technical dilemmas relative to the cost-benefit analysis, in order to maintain the current damages and trace a less adverse future.

The fact is that a licitation has already been announced for contracting geomechanic, hidrogeologic and hydrologic studies to serve as foundations for the analyses of stability of the open-air excavations of the mines of Engenho and Quebradas, while proposals of the company circulate around the population of Pau Ferro, 12km away from Maniaçu. There, where there is a surface mine, small farmers are ironically convinced to plant umbuzeiro trees, towards the end of increasing the value of their properties in the moment of indemnization.  Pau Ferro has 34 families, fear, and a willingness to defend their lands and fight for politicians and authorities to begin to respect water as a fundamental human right.

Sócio-environmental organizations are pressuring for a more firm action from the responsible fiscal bodies and controlo f the nuclear industry.   Since 2001, they have been fighting for the performance of a large, independent, and multidisciplinary audit to speed up the functioning of the company.   In this moment, they see as positive the recent instalation of a section of the General Attorney of the Republic in the municipal neighborhood of Guanambi, with the expectation of a combined action between the Federal Public Ministry and the Public Ministry for the Environment of Bahia, which could result in effective measures for the clean up not only of the impacto f the accidents, but also of all the legal and technical aspects that involve the work of INB in Caetité, due to the necessity of confirming or finally burying the speculations that bring such restlessness to the region.  


(1) Declaration in Public Audience made by GT-Senate in Caetité on 10/31/2005

(2) Report from the Senate on Fiscalization and Nuclear Safety, item, 2006

(3) Declaration of Doctor Maria Vera de Oliveira from the Center of Health Reference of Santo Amaro, from the Prefect of São Paulo – Report from the Senate on Fiscalization and Nuclear Safety, item 3.3, 2006

(4) Declaration in Public Audience about INB and the Workers' and Population's Health, in Caetité, 4/13/2005

(5) "EfEffects of Implantation of the Lagoa Real Project on the Quality of Life of Families in the Affected Área", a case study of Manoel Raimundo Alves, 2005, page 85

(6) Declaration in Public Audience organized by IBAMA-BA in Caetité, 4/13/2005

(7) Documented handed over to Minister Marina Silva of the MMA, by the Paulo Jackson Movement Association – Ethics, Justice, Citizenship, in Salvador, 9/15/2006


[1][1] Zoraide Villasboas é jornalista e membro da coordenação da Associação Movimento Paulo Jackson Ética, Justiça, Cidadania