MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Discontent over Rio Tinto’s jadarite mine grow louder in Serbia

Published by MAC on 2020-12-04
Source: Balkan Green Energy News

The Jadar lithium project.

Balanced and well-argued articles that - in particular - evoke a growing local (national?) critical movement; one that couldn't be anticipated two-three years ago, and whose concerns are definitely not being addressed by Rio Tinto.

See also:

2020-04-15 Remote control: Rio Tinto’s AGM and ‘shareholder engagement session’

 

Rio Tinto’s lithium project in Serbia challenged over transboundary impact

https://balkangreenenergynews.com/rio-tintos-lithium-project-in-serbia-challenged-over-transboundary-impact/

December 1, 2020

The Center for Environment from Banja Luka asked for the initiation of a procedure in BiH to determine the transboundary impact of the possible exploitation and processing of lithium ore in Loznica area across the border, environmentalists from Serbia said. Rio Tinto will decide in a year whether to mine the jadarite mineral.

Environmentalist groups called Zaštitimo Jadar i Rađevinu and Koalicija za održivo rudarenje u Srbiji (coalition for sustainable mining in Serbia) thanked the Center for Environment – CZŽS for, as they said, alerting competent authorities in the Republic of Srpska and Bosnia Herzegovina about the possible transboundary impact of jadarite exploitation in Serbia.

Rio Tinto, one of the biggest mining conglomerates on the planet, has been studying a lithium deposit near Loznica for the last 16 years and purchasing land. The Anglo-Australian company plans to decide in a year whether to go through with the project with an estimated worth of USD 1.5 billion. The site is close to the Drina, and BiH territory is just across the river.
 
Rio Tinto’s reputation

CZŽS is based in Banja Luka, the capital city of the Republic of Srpska in BiH. Citing the Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in a Transboundary Context, the organization demanded from the state to initiate consultations with Serbia on the spatial plan for the special purpose area for the mining and processing of the aforementioned ore, the two other environmentalist groups said.

States that signed the Espoo Convention must consult the authorities and public in other countries about the possibility of a transboundary environmental impact.

They asserted the colleagues from Banja Luka wrote that Rio Tinto was one of the most notorious international corporations and that it has prompted scandals all over the world, from Madagascar to Indonesia to Papua New Guinea. “We believe we must take a responsible stance toward this project, which works with a very specific and unique mineral, jadarite, which is indeed a pioneering and risky project, especially when, like in this case, we don’t have enough information about the impact,” the submitted document reads, as quoted by Zaštitimo Jadar i Rađevinu and Koalicija za održivo rudarenje.



The Jadar project: Investment of the century or environmental catastrophe?


Snezana Bjelotomic

https://www.serbianmonitor.com/en/the-jadar-project-investment-of-the-century-or-environmental-catastrophe/

22/10/2020

Although the Jadar project has been dubbed as the investment of the century, the residents of Loznica and surrounding places are concerned that the Rio Tinto Company, responsible for the project implementation, will “envelop the entire area in black smoke”.

Experts from this Anglo-Australian company have conducted many years of research on the mineral called the Jadarite (sodium-lithium-borosilicate) and found it in the basin of the Jadar River in Serbia, from which it takes its name.

In February this year, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić visited Rio Tinto’s site and said that this effort is important not only for Loznica but for the whole country. On that occasion, she expressed the hope that the construction of the chemical plant will begin at the end of next year.

However, many Loznica residents disagree with this idea, arguing that an environmental catastrophe awaits them if it happens.

Miodrag Stanisic from Osecina says that excavations in the mine will increase the pollution in the area, and that there will be more harm than good from the mine. He adds that he participated in the protests against the construction of the chemical plant here.

“We are about fifteen kilometres from the future mine. In the last year and a half, the representatives of Rio Tinto conducted research here three or four times a week. The excavations are planned in the basin of the Kolubara and Korenita rivers and will be 40 metres long. This in practice means that the waste will be disposed of on the surface,” Stanisic warns.

Stanisic points out that the technology of mining the ore is quite dirty, and the possibility of an environmental accident is very high. He adds that many citizens are uninformed, which is why they are silent about this.

“I am an economist by profession and I think the effects (of the project implementation) will be very negative. The miners are poorly paid and I don’t think the area will benefit from that,” said Stanisic.

Vladan Jakovljević shares Stanisic’s views and says that because his family of five was not able to work in Loznica, he started beekeeping.

“A black and poisonous cloud hovers over my bees and my existence, and if the bees disappear, the location population will not fare well. I am not a member of any political party and my opposition to mining is a personal stance in the interest of preserving the quality of water, soil and air,” Jakovljevic adds.

Marija Alimpić from the Protecting Jadar and Radjevina Association recalls that in 2004, Rio Tinto discovered deposits of borate and lithium which are considered critical raw materials. According to her, during the 15 years of research, the company has kept the technical, environmental and social impacts of the project secret. The company says that the jadarite is a unique mineral and claims to have developed special processing techniques, although no one has seen or heard anything about it.
 

Voices of discontent over Rio Tinto’s jadarite mine investment in Serbia grow louder

Balkan Green Energy News - https://balkangreenenergynews.com/voices-of-discontent-over-rio-tintos-jadarite-mine-investment-in-serbia-grow-louder/

6 November 2020

When the state has no control over the implementation of its own  environmental protection laws, and investors are denying access to information about their projects or operations, then citizens – in this case Serbian citizens – are forced to take matters into their own hands and protect water, land, and air. This is precisely what is happening with the announced mining of jadarite, a lithium ore, in which global mining giant Rio Tinto could invest USD 1.5 billion. Is the state’s role to defend the investor at all costs or to protect its citizens? In recent days, this has been one of the most important questions in Serbia.

In the absence of answers about the proportions of the damage that jadarite mining could cause and what technologies will be applied, as well as whether they will have to leave their homes and why their agricultural land has been reclassified as construction land, residents of the Loznica area had no other choice but to band together in order to protect themselves.

They claim that the future jadarite mine, which will span some 500 hectares, will cause serious damage, not only to the areas around Krupanj, Loznica, and Valjevo, but to the entire country, because water and soil will be contaminated.

On the other hand, after years of silence, the British-Australian company, which has been exploring the jadarite deposit in Serbia for over 16 years now, and whose current market capitalization is USD 73 billion, says it will protect the environment as well as the local population.

The government is ignoring the questions about the Jadar project, but its representatives, including Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, are repeating over and over that this investment is an opportunity for Serbia’s economic revival and that the global demand for lithium is growing due to its use in batteries for electric and hybrid automobiles, which are the future of transportation.

What is the price of this revival in terms of environmental degradation? Nobody has answered this question yet.

People are left on their own

Marija Alimpić from the Protect Jadar and Rađevina association says that local residents are scared, but also angry. “People are scared. On their estates, in the vicinity of their houses, there will be a disposal site for tailings from mining and processing, and there are also rumors that their land will be taken away from them unless they agree to sell it,” she said.

Hundreds of residents of the Loznica area expressed their dissatisfaction during a recent protest in the village of Brezjak, where Rio Sava Exploration, Rio Tinto’s subsidiary in Serbia, has an office.

People are upset because they do not have enough information and because they can see the damage caused by the company’s activities in their area, but also in other parts of the world.

In a situation where the state cannot protect them, they have started to join forces, registering the Protect Jadar and Rađevina association, with another similar organization soon to be founded.

Alimpić says that grass no longer grows around the exploration drill holes, and that some kind of liquid is leaking from protruding tubes.

“In the entire exploration area of some 500 hectares, there are underground lakes with potable water, which will be drained or contaminated in case of mining. Another consequence of exploration works, according to the locals, is the fact that water from a church well in the village of Gornje Nedeljice, just a few meters from the St George’s Church, has not been fit for drinking since 2018. All this unsettles people,” she says.

When Serbian citizens look to the state, they see that Prime Minister Ana Brnabić regards Rio Tinto’s activities as a way to put Serbia on the world map, and its plans as something that could change the entire country, and for the better, in her view. The Serbian government and Rio Tinto have signed a memorandum of understanding, and they are now jointly looking for a partner who would open a factory to manufacture electric batteries or electric cars.

Rio Tinto’s considerable self-confidence is reflected in the price it is offering for the land. Zlatko Kokanović, a local farmer, says that the planned tailings disposal site will be 2,000 meters long and 500 meters wide, while its expected height is 40 meters. It would be located between two rivers, the Jadar and the Korenita, which occasionally spill over, raising fears that material from the tailings could end up in these two rivers, and then in the Drina, the Sava, and the Danube.

“They have offered us a price of EUR 102 per are (100 square meters), even though it is impossible to buy land in these parts – nobody is selling. Each plot of land is cultivated. Without land, and even with land that has a mine in the vicinity, there is no life for us here,” Kokanović said on a TV show.

He added that the agricultural land in the area has recently been reclassified as construction land, without the owners’ knowledge. This entails a tenfold increase in taxes on this land, which can be interpreted as pressure on landowners to sell.

Zvezdan Kalmar of the Coalition for Sustainable Mining said at the protest in Brezjak that problems which are expected in this part of Serbia already exist in Bor, Požarevac, and Lazarevac. People there are already suffering, especially in Bor, he added. For this reason, according to him, the construction of the mine should be put on hold until serious environmental impact assessments have been completed.

The money the Serbian government intends to spend on the construction of a road, a power transmission line, a gas pipeline, and the supply of water from the Drina for this mine should instead be invested in these villages and agriculture, according to him.

Spatial plan adopted for the mining and processing project

According to Alimpić, a spatial plan for a special-purpose area for the jadarite mining and mineral processing project was adopted in February, following a public consultation. A report on the spatial plan’s strategic environmental assessment has also been prepared, and these are the only two official documents in connection with the project that are publicly available.

According to her, the plan covers 22 villages and 500 hectares of land. The mine is envisaged on the bank of the Korenita, a Jadar tributary, with underground mining to be performed underneath both rivers’ beds, she said. By the river, there will be a flotation facility which will use 1,000 tons of sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, and hydrochloric acid, she said.

As the tailings disposal site is expected to be located 20 kilometers from the river Štavica, between four villages, Dvorska, Krasava, Gornje Brezovice, and Cerova, the plan is to cut nearly 200 hectares of forest. According to the latest information, Rio Tinto is considering relocating the tailings site to a location in the vicinity of Paulje, an archeological site of exceptional importance, which is up to 3,500 years old.

Alimpić noted that jadarite is a hydroxide sodium lithium borosilicate, and that a mixture of toxic chemicals is required to extract lithium.

Those chemicals, according to her, will end up in the surrounding soil, water, or air, while the adverse impacts of the mine could be felt up to 200 kilometers away.

She says the mine will be operated for about 20 years, and that it will leave ruined nature once it is closed.

“The fertile Podrinje and Mačva will no longer be healthy soil for agriculture, or life,” she said. “How much does that pay off for Serbia given that all the ore will be the property of Rio Tinto?,” she asked.

Dragana Đorđević, a scientific adviser at the Institute of Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy, who took part in the gathering, expects that the operation of this mine will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences, while the damage caused will exceed the revenues from 4% mining royalty many times over.

According to her, the permanent destruction of agricultural land and water is not economically viable, given that water has recently started trading on global exchanges and that its price will rise dramatically going forward.

Finally, a word from Rio Tinto

Faced with growing discontent, Rio Tinto has decided to describe its activities. The company says that about 2,100 jobs could be created at the peak of the mine construction phase, while over 650 highly-skilled workers will be employed full-time during the operation phase.

The Jadar project, according to Rio Tinto, has been in the feasibility phase since July this year. This phase entails completing technical documentation, obtaining permits, and buying land.

A final investment decision is expected at the end of 2021. If the decision is positive, the company expects that construction works could begin during 2022 and last about four years. The jadarite processing technology has been tested in a pilot plant at a research center in Australia, according to the company’s media release.

Rio Tinto said that it organizes “open door” events in Loznica and Brezjak on a regular basis, providing members of the local community with the opportunity to learn everything they want to know.

The government is looking for a partner to build a factory

Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said in February that the Serbian government and Rio Tinto are jointly looking for a strategic partner who would build a factory to manufacture electric batteries or electric automobiles in Loznica.

According to RTV, the third partner will use lithium to make a final product, which, according to her, will boost Serbia’s economy as a whole.

Rio Tinto says that it is still working on a detailed assessment of potential environmental impacts and that a comprehensive study will be completed during work on a feasibility study.

It is already known that a water treatment facility is planned to be built as part of the complex, in order to achieve the quality of water in line with applicable regulations, according to Rio Tinto.

The mine and the processing plant will generate two types of waste: rock, from which jadarite will not be extracted, and industrial waste from processing. Both will be combined into one mass, which will be filtered and turned into cakes for disposal at the site.

Concentrations of heavy metals in the waste will be roughly equal to their concentrations in the soil. The waste will be neither toxic nor hazardous (flammable, erosive, volatile, etc.), the company said.

Rio Tinto also noted that it needs to buy some 250 hectares of land and that negotiations are under way with about 335 landowners. The land acquisition process, Rio Tinto added, is progressing in line with Serbian laws and the best global practices.

One of the world’s biggest lithium deposits

According to Rio Tinto, Jadar is a world-class lithium-borate deposit, which was discovered in 2004. Two years later, the mineral was officially registered and named “jadarite” after the Jadar river, in whose valley it was discovered.

Due to high concentrations of lithium and boron, Jadar has been ranked as one of the most significant lithium deposits in the world, with declared mineral resources at 136 million tons.

The Jadar deposit, according to Rio Tinto, is located at the doorstep of the European automobile industry, which is quickly entering the era of electric vehicles in line with the EU’s green transport agenda.

 

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