MAC: Mines and Communities

Turkish mine plan arouses vigorous citizen opposition

Published by MAC on 2010-11-08
Source: Hurriyet Daily News

Following a recent liberalisation of Turkey's mining law, citizen groups are expressing new fears that projects will have a damaging impact on the country's environment, social integrity, and cultural monuments.

Although mine battles have been waged primarily against gold over the past fifteen years it is a nickel mine, proposed by London-listed European Nickel plc, which stands to be first off the block under the "new regime".

Mining plans in Turkey's Aegean region stir environmental fears

By Melis Alphan

Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review

22 October 2010

Plans to build a large nickel mine near an important natural area in Turkey's Aegean region are generating fears among locals and environmental experts about widespread deforestation and soil contamination.

"The mine will have a detrimental effect. You buy water in the cities, but here, we drink it from the tap. If this mine is built, we won't even be able to find [clean] water," said Necip Köken, a businessman in Turgutlu, a town near where Sardes Nikel Madencilik A.Ş. * hopes to establish a facility that will mine nickel by using sulfuric acid to extract the metal from rocks in the area.

"Who is going to give us the guarantee that something similar to that in Hungary won't happen?" Köken asked.

The devastating toxic spill from an aluminum plant in western Hungary has further fanned long-held fears in Turgutlu, a town some 50 kilometers inland from İzmir where residents have been fighting the proposed Çaldağ mine for four years. The company's statement that it is using the highest available technology and has received approval from the Environment and Forestry Ministry has not assuaged concerns about the facility's effect on the surrounding watershed, the Gediz River Basin.

"Setting up the second-largest sulfuric-acid factory in the seventh-biggest agricultural basin in the world, and the most productive one in Turkey, is like storing a hundred tons of dynamite in your house," said metallurgy engineer İsmail Duman, a professor at Istanbul Technical University and an opponent of the mine in Manisa province.

"Nature will be turned into a chemistry laboratory," Duman said, claiming that 15 million to 18 million tons of sulfuric acid will be used in the open air over 15 years. "There are many different ways to extract nickel," he added. "Operations should be done in a closed area."

Environmentalists' objections caused the 15-year mining permit granted to Sardes Nikel Madencilik A.Ş. to be canceled, but changes in the mining law will allow the company to restart operations once it raises sufficient capital.

Opponents say the project will lead to the felling of tens of thousands of trees and the contamination of the soil with millions of tons of sulfuric acid, damaging the area's agriculture and water supply and forcing residents to leave. At the end of the 15-year contract, they say, the basin will be completely ruined.

The region is the capital for growing Sultaniye grapes and yellow raisins that are sold all over the world, Duman said, noting that 85 percent of grapes are dried in the open air.

"Picture this: The wind blows the acid onto the grapes. If you try to export them, which country will accept them?" he asked. "Before we even reach the end of 15 years, we will witness migration. More than 2 million people here will be affected."

"We will not be able to sell most of the things you see in the market," said Necati Gülkıyrak, the head of the Turgutlu Greengrocers Chamber.

Recovery of nickel through the heap-leaching process also requires the creation of areas to store, and eventually dispose of, the "tailings," the often-toxic materials left over from extracting the metal. The sludge spill in Hungary occurred when a reservoir holding industrial waste burst, and locals and experts are concerned something similar could happen in Manisa.

The mining company's system for handling waste will be built on a dangerously steep slope, Duman said. "They say it is a pooling system, but four-sixths of what they will build is a high dam according to the International Commission on High Dams' criteria," he added.

In a statement on its website, Sardes Nikel Madencilik A.Ş. said the technology to be employed in the project is up-to-date and compatible with European Unions norms. The company said the project has been approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the State Waterworks Authority, or DSİ, and a court decision based on an expert report by three professors from Dokuz Eylül University.

"There was misinformation [on the pools]. I am sure that if Ankara had known [that they were actually high dams], they would have never granted permission," said Ayla Yönet, a representative of the Turkish environmental group TEMA.

"There were heavy rains this year and someone from a village [near Turgutlu] called me Feb. 2 and said, ‘There is a small flood here; the village is soaked in water,'" Yönet said, adding that a similar incident could be devastating if it caused a pool holding toxic materials to overflow and mingle with the floodwaters.

"When the waters from the pilot pool they constructed overflowed, our chicken and geese died," said Mine Yönet, a housewife in the area. "The company bought properties that were worth 1,000 Turkish Liras for 40,000 liras, but now villagers regret having sold their land. They were not told the truth."

Similar mining projects have caused serious damage in other places, said Ediz Tuncel, a faculty member at Near East University in northern Cyprus.

"The Cyprus Mining Co. located in the province of Lefke in 1913 used sulfuric acid in the open air to extract copper. Serious environmental pollution was caused back then," Tuncel said. "A 100-kilometer-square area was devastated by work done in a 2-kilometer-square field. If you had used a nuclear bomb, it would not have caused such devastation."

Miners working in the area often succumbed to cancer, added Tuncel. His grandfather, who suffered from leukemia, was among those miners. "My mother's brother worked in the same mine, too," Tuncel said. "He died of pancreas and intestinal cancer. So did our neighbors."

* Editorial note: Sardes Nikel Madencilik A.Ş is a wholly-owned subsidiary of European Nickel plc.

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