On Tuesday March 19th, a group of armed men opened fire on police escorting a shipment of uranium destined for one of Brazil’s two operational nuclear power plants. The convoy came under fire while passing through the town of Frade, about 19 miles from its ultimate destination in Angra dos Reis.
Details surrounding the incident remain fairly sparse, but according to reports in Brazilian media outlets, law enforcement escorting the convoy fanned out around the truck carrying the uranium as a precautionary measure when they heard the sound of gunshots in the distance. Soon, the gunfire became more consistent and seemed to specifically target the heavily-armed “shock battalion” officers serving as convoy security.
According to some reports, the attack on the convoy may not have even been intentional. The region has seen a sharp uptick in violence as of late, and according to a statement from Brazil’s nuclear agency, Eletronuclear, the convoy may have found itself in what was effectively just the wrong place at the wrong time. Company representatives posited that the uranium shipment was “not attacked by bandits,” but rather rolled through an active shootout between criminal parties. They claim some of the bandits opened fire on police because their sudden arrival in the middle of the conflict frightened them.
“Unfortunately, there have been frequent attacks by criminals in that region. They attack cars of the PRF [Federal Highway Police], as well as other vehicles of the police that pass in that region,” Inspector José Hélio Macedo of the PRF press office said.
After a brief firefight, the attack tapered off and the gunmen fled. No injuries were reported and no arrests were made—the convoy and its law enforcement contingent focused specifically on getting the uranium out of the area.
Eletronuclear also explained the uranium in the shipment wouldn’t have posed any threat to the public if exposed, stating that in its current state it produces no more radioactivity than it does when found in nature. The fuel being transported also couldn’t be used to create nuclear weapons.
“If a gunshot was able to cross the protection of the container, it could damage the nuclear fuel, but this would not endanger the population or the environment. Fuel element is in the natural state, having the same level of radioactivity found in nature,” according to a basic translation of Eletronuclear’s statement.
With little to gain by attacking the uranium convoy, it seems plausible that the attack may have actually been the result of a conflict between rival gangs, rather than a concerted effort to capture the shipment.