MAC: Mines and Communities

Mr. President of the French Republic

Published by MAC on 2004-11-19

Mr. President of the French Republic
Mr. Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development
Mr. Minister of Finance

Dear Sirs,

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations of environmental protection, hereby ask that you oppose the construction of the mining complex, “Goro Nickel,” in New Caledonia. By financially supporting this project via aids or tax exemption and by granting administrative authorization, the french government becomes an accomplice to the grave and irreversible attack on the biodiversity, as well as the sanitary condition of the marine environment.

“Goro Nickel” would use an experimental technique requiring sulfuric acid under high pressure, coal, the storage of dangerous goods and mining residues, dozens of radioactive sources, and the contamination would mire the coral reefs and the depending fish in the lagoons of southern New Caledonia.

The subterranean canal and the combined nickel and cobalt refining is expected to reject a flux of more than 45,000 m3/day containing several tons of suspended materials, manganese, copper, aluminium, zinc, iron, arsenic, cadmium, organic substances, sulfates, and chromium into the ocean. Some run-off from the plant, such as chromium, would exceed the european standard by more than 1,800 times.

In their critical analysis of the request of authorization, Ineris* attempted to bridge the gaps in the studies of the impact concerning the quasi-totality of the project and the long-term prediction of the effects of bioaccumulation of the pollutants on the marine species. The sanitary effects of marine food-chain contamination—there are hundreds of small-scale fishermen working in the zone—are no longer addressed.

The lagoons threatened by the toxic influence of “Goro Nickel” are vital areas for multiple marine mammals of two orders: sirenias with the sporadic observation of dugongs, and cetaceans—blue whale, minke whale, sperm whale—perhaps the most important of which, the humpback whales of the South Pacific migrating between the Tonga Islands, New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia. These populations are protected by France within international conventions. Beyond the chemical pollution, the marine mammals are exposed to acoustic pollution and to risks of collison with the cargo carriers.

Finally, and this is by no means exhaustive, “Goro Nickel” is also a grave threat to the flora and fauna specific to the region. New Caledonia is one of the most important habitats for endemic species and, to cite an example, the only coryphoide palm tree Pritchardiopsis jeanneneyi of the region is situated with great proximity to the plant where sulfuric acid would be produced.

With respect to the protection of the workers, the presence of antigorite in the planned mining field is of additional concern and according to the Inspection Médicale du Travail, the dust particles contain antigorite, which has a carcinogenic and mutagenic quality greater than that of asbestos. These effects have not been taken into account.

We remind you that the company, Inco, in charge of the “Goro Nickel” project has previously been in the spotlight for infractions against human rights and the environment in Canada, Indonesia and Central America.

We hope that the french government will reconsider supporting this project and will take action against it.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte Nithart
Robin des Bois


* Institut National de l’Environnement Industriel et des Risques

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