Photo Essay: A Cry for Help From a Dreamy Landscape—The Threat of Living Near a Nuclear Power Plant

Anthony Karai looking at Angra dos Reis
Mídia Guarani Mbya

Photo Essay: A Cry for Help From a Dreamy Landscape—The Threat of Living Near a Nuclear Power Plant


children guarani
Youths in the Mbyá village of Sapukai, Rio de Janeiro / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

Located within a radius of 10km from the Almirante Álvaro Alberto Nuclear Power Center (CNAAA), Sapukai (pop. 450) is the largest Indigenous community in the state of Rio de Janeiro. CNAAA is a complex of three different nuclear facilities: Angra I, II and III, all of which are administered by the Brazilian state-backed utility, Eletrobras Eletronuclear. Eletrobras is responsible for the operation of all nuclear plants in the country.

Angra dos Reis map
Map of Angra dos Reis / Credit: Google Earth.
prayer house
Indigenous leader Lucas Benite Xunu in the opy (“house of prayer) during a devotion / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

Lucas Benite Xunu Miri, who has lived in Sapukai for more than 30 years, arrived in the area with the community's founder, Chief Verá Mirim, and his family. He climbed the hill on the Tapé Porã trail (meaning “sacred path”) in search of Yvy Marãe'y (or “Land Without Evil”). None of the Mbyá who settled here knew of the nuclear facility next door, Angra 1, which was first to connected to the energy grid in 1982 and eventually went fully online in 1985. They were also unprepared for the impact this facility and nearby development would have on a sudden influx of new non-Indigenous migrants.

julio karai
Mbya leader Julio Garcia Karai Xiju / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

Julio Garcia Karai Xiju, another Sapukai community leader, adds his perspective on the expansion since Guarani people first settled here: "We see the mobilization for the construction of Eletronuclear project [Angra III] as well as large condominiums, which are being called the ‘Brazilian Cancún.’ These actions have impacts on our territory but do not recognize [us] and disrespect the rights of traditional communities.”

cnaaa complex
CNAAA under construction in 2007 / Credit: FURNAS Centrais Electricas.

The CNAAA has further plans for expansion. Construction of the complex began 1970, in a place that the Tupinambá people named Itaorna more than 500 years ago. The meaning is translated as either "rotten stone" or "soft stone." The Angra plants are built on land made up of unstable earth atop a geological fault. Faults are where earthquakes occur, after all. But in the 1970s and 80s, the Brazilian military government wasn’t concerned with geological studies, preferring to build up domestic energy over scientific advice.

angra smoke
A Mbyá community member in front of Angra I / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

In a public hearing convened on July 29, 2020, federal public prosecutor, Dr. Igor Miranda da Silva, highlighted the lack of respect for Indigenous peoples’ rights stemming from the Angra dos Reis projects. According to filings from the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office, it was determined that the plant’s business interests did not account for socio-environmental impacts on Indigenous people. Dr. Miranda da Silva pointed to unfulfilled negotiations with local people about the construction of the Angra plants, compensation to affected communities as a result of construction, unfinished community infrastructure projects, and unfulfilled economic development programs in local Indigenous communities.

bathroom unfinished
A bathroom in Sapukai used for other purposes / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

In the village of Tekoá Dje’y, a hamlet of 15 families and 40 residents, Subchief Neusa Kunhã Takuá describes how her community is beset by limited access to the main highway nearby, BR-101, which would be difficult to navigate during any potential emergency should the Angra plants suffer the same fate as Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi. Takuá remarks how important potential evacuations might be from the perspective of her people, many of whom feel left in the dark about the workings of Angra I and II.

Subchief Neusa Kunhã Takuá in the village of Tekoá Dje'y / Credit: Rafael Vilela.
access road
Access road to the village of Tekoá Dje'y / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

Beginning with Angra I and ending with the unfinished Angra III plant; not to mention further development of the "Brazilian Cancún" in near proximity, Indigenous Mbyá-Guarani people report being affected by nuclear power plant and resort development. These photos and text are a small attempt to tell their story.

Neither representatives from the Angra dos Reis plants nor from Eletronuclear accepted requests for an interview at the time of publication. 

fruit gathering
Children gathering fruit in the Mbyá village of Itaxi Mirim / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network Indigenous Environmental Reporting initiative. The original, full-length story was published in Portuguese in Mídia Guarani Mbya. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Anthony Karai in front of the Angra dos Reis complex / Credit: Rafael Vilela.

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