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Bull Environ Contam Toxicol. 2009 Nov;83(5):668-73. doi: 10.1007/s00128-009-9808-3. Epub 2009 Jul 10.

Alpha emitting radionuclides in drainage from Quinta do Bispo and Cunha Baixa uranium mines (Portugal) and associated radiotoxicological risk.

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Departamento de Protecção Radiológica e Segurança Nuclear, Instituto Tecnológico e Nuclear, 2686-953 Sacavém, Portugal.


Two large uranium mines, Quinta do Bispo and Cunha Baixa, district of Viseu, North of Portugal, were exploited until 1991. Sulfuric acid was used for in situ uranium leaching in Cunha Baixa mine and for heap leaching of low grade ores at both mines. Large amounts of mining and milling residues were accumulated nearby. Since closure of mines, the treatment of acid mine waters has been maintained and treated water is released into surface water lines. Analysis of radionuclides in the soluble phase and in the suspended matter of water samples from the uranium mines, from the creeks receiving the discharges of mine effluents, from the rivers and from wells in this area, show an enhancement of radioactivity levels. For example, downstream the discharge of mine effluents into Castelo Stream, the concentrations of dissolved uranium isotopes and uranium daughters were up to 14 times the concentrations measured upstream; (238)U concentration in suspended particulate matter of Castelo Stream reached 72 kBq kg(-1), which is about 170 times higher than background concentrations in Mondego River. Nevertheless, radionuclide concentrations decreased rapidly to near background values within a distance of about 7 kilometers from the discharge point. Enhancement of radioactivity in underground waters was positively correlated with a decrease in water pH and with an increase of sulfate ion concentration, pointing out to Cunha Baixa mine as the source of groundwater contamination. The radiotoxic exposure risk arising from using these well waters as drinking water and as irrigation water is discussed and implementation of environmental remediation measures is advised.

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