This Monday, José Ramón Barrueco, one of the promoters of the Stop Uranio platform against the Retortillo mine in Salamanca, received the good news while working in the field. At noon, The Nuclear Safety Council announced that it was demolishing the project of the multinational Berkeley after a decade of running. “It has been a real break,” Barrueco explains by phone. For this neighbor of Villavieja de Yeltes, the open-pit mine project changed his life ten years ago.
In 2011 he attended a talk in Boada, a municipality six kilometers from Retortillo, in which a former Berkeley worker explained what the project would consist of. Not only was it an environmental “disaster” for the region, there was also a speculative objective, or so many neighbors understood. “This technician explained to us that the mineral was of low quality, so the interest in opening the mine had more to do with the possibilities of enriching themselves on the stock market, than with what they would get by selling the uranium, which was quite scarce,” he says .
Barrueco began to learn and move with other residents of neighboring towns and in 2013 they created the Stop Uranio Platform. During this time they have organized talks, demonstrations, met with councilors, political and union representatives, and have gone to the Cortes of Castilla y León and even the European Parliament. “Everything to try to prove us right”, as it has finally happened. The Nuclear Safety Council came to denounce pressure from the Junta de Castilla y León and Berkeley to authorize the mine.
That is why the road has not been easy and has divided some peoples and even some families. “The promise of employment and wealth is very attractive in these sparsely populated areas,” says Javier Andaluz, head of Energy and Climate at Ecologistas en Acción. And the company took advantage of that, which had the favor of some municipalities, after Berkeley signed agreements with the consistories, giving advances as future royalties. “It didn’t matter which party it was, but in places like Retortillo the councilors have always been in favor,” he explains.
The company also tried to obtain the support of the neighbors, they explain from the STOP Uranio association. Offering contracts and promises of stable employment for the citizens of the area. “There are quite a few who decided to register here,” says Barrueco. But after ten years of promises and with little movement on the ground, people have ended up getting tired. The illusion ended up turning into skepticism, which has made more and more neighbors doubt the project. That is why from STOP Uranio and from Ecologists agree: citizen opposition has been fundamental.
“The CSN’s decision is technical, but it would not be understandable without the social pressure that has existed,” says Andaluz, a member of Ecologistas en Acción. “I believe that, if the population had been massively in favor, the decision would have been the opposite. Without the citizen struggle it would not have been achieved,” Barrueco says. The company announced on Monday afternoon its decision to study possible legal avenues. But the associations are calm and believe that the bolt to the project is final. “The Nuclear Safety Council has considered the reports of the company insufficient, and there is also the new Climate Change Law that will prevent its implementation”, underlines the spokesperson for STOP Uranio.
Now almost more for a moral than an environmental issue, Barrueco hopes that justice will not agree with the company. “I think they are looking for what happened with the Castor Project: a millionaire compensation. And it would be bad news, because they cut down a centenary holm oak grove and have done a lot of damage to coexistence. Compensating them would be a way of rewarding them for all the evil they have done to this land”.