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Director of “Jadar”: Many lies are being spread about lithium mining

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The draft study on the lithium mine shows that it is possible to meet all standards, says Chad Blevitt, project director of “Jadar” at Rio Tinto. He told DW that the mine brings geopolitical advantages to Serbia.

“Radically transparent” – this phrase was repeated several times by Chad Blevitt when speaking to DW about his company Rio Tinto. Blevitt is the executive director of the “Jadar” project, which has been planning a lithium mine in Gornji Nedeljice in western Serbia for years.

Blevitt defended the company’s decision to recently publish the draft of its environmental impact study as a way to counter “disinformation.” The main message of this draft study is, he says: “The project can be safe according to Serbian and European standards.”

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However, the director of this large mining company is cautious about specific announcements. When asked about the opinion expressed by President Aleksandar Vučić in an interview with the Financial Times – that the mine could start operating in 2028 – Blevitt noted that there are many steps to be taken until then.

First, it is necessary to regain the permits that were withdrawn in 2022 after the protests, when then-Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said that it was a “full stop” on the lithium project.

Only then, Blevitt explains, can they proceed with construction and mining permits, as well as the official environmental impact study, with each step followed by public consultations.

“Based on the information we had before our permit was withdrawn, it takes four years to build the mine,” he said.

Although the topic of the mine has been reignited – as have the protests – the authorities have not yet officially started returning the permits to Rio Tinto.

Blevitt largely blames the project’s stagnation on “disinformation” spread by opponents of the mining – from claims that the entire Danube will be poisoned with sulfuric acid, to claims that twenty thousand people will be displaced.

He specifically addressed the petition and public initiative launched by the Kreni-promeni movement led by Sava Manojlović. “The entire public initiative was based on that disinformation. If I heard that, I would sign the petition (against mining) too! I would be scared too. All that information logically created fear,” Blevitt told DW.

He claims that some of the “disinformation” comes from academics who are not experts in modern mining, and the company long thought that citizens would not believe such “nonsense.”

However, their draft study, the “Jadar” director claims, refutes apocalyptic scenarios. “The study shows that we will never exceed Serbian and European limits for air, water, soil pollution, noise, and dust levels. That is crucial.”

He called the study “the most comprehensive ever in Serbia” and invited the academic community to provide their comments.

“We haven’t seen a single expert – who is politically aligned and opposition-minded – trying to debate this. They just spread disinformation and ultimately repeat ‘we don’t want the mine, we don’t want the mine.'”

He invites project opponents to look for flaws in the draft study and to provide comments to further improve it.

“We are radically transparent. I expect the same level of transparency from the other side, but specific knowledge is required. A music professor cannot talk about chemical management or underground mine design,” Blevitt states.

Regarding claims that the mine will prevent agriculture throughout the Jadar valley or that local producers won’t be able to sell their products anywhere, Blevitt says:

“We will buy all agricultural products produced around the mine if you cannot sell them on the market and use them in our canteen, for our workers to eat. Because we are one hundred percent confident in the technology, studies, and safety of the underground mine.”

Obliged to Have a “Battery Passport”

According to Blevitt, Serbian authorities and the public now have an additional guarantee that everything will be done correctly in the form of new European regulations coming into effect in 2027.

At that time, every battery will have to have a so-called “passport” confirming that the raw materials for the battery and the battery itself were obtained while respecting environmental standards.

“Rio Tinto has already invested $600 million in the project. We will invest billions more if we get the permit. And we wouldn’t be able to sell any lithium in Europe unless we get the battery passport, which is only obtained if we meet the standards. This can further reassure the authorities in Serbia that we will do the right thing,” Blevitt tells DW.

When asked how much pressure Serbia is under from the EU to mine lithium as one of the crucial raw materials of the future, Blevitt said:

“Critical raw materials are great for the EU’s strategic autonomy, but if the project is not good for Serbia, it will not happen. In meetings with citizens, I always say that even when building highways, stadiums, or hospitals, there is always an environmental impact. Society weighs and decides.”

More Jobs, Higher GDP

According to Blevitt, the jadarite ore produces three “world-class” products. In addition to lithium carbonate, there are boric acid and sodium sulfate.

“This gives Serbia geopolitical power in terms of attracting other investments and industries. It means more jobs, more skills, more tax revenue, higher GDP,” says Blevitt.

He adds that Rio Tinto is used to long-term projects and that it is not uncommon for it to take twenty years to open a mine. In Serbia, he concludes, they are planning for the long term, as the ore would be exploited for decades, much longer than at other deposits in Europe.

President Vučić confirmed to the Financial Times that he received “new guarantees” from the company that the project will be environmentally friendly.

According to Vučić, Serbia can produce enough lithium for about 1.1 million electric cars annually.

Opponents of the mining, however, are adamant in their claim that lithium mining would devastate this part of the country and are announcing numerous protests and a fight.

Source : DW

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