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“Jadar” will not pollute river streams

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As the discussion about the “Jadar” project has reignited in recent days, the public in Serbia remains confused by the extremely contradictory narratives about whether lithium is needed or not. The primary concern is whether tap water will remain drinkable and to what extent this project will affect the Drina and Sava rivers.

Last week, Rio Tinto published drafts of environmental impact assessment studies for the “Jadar” project, confirming that coexistence between industry and nature is possible.

These are drafts of the environmental impact assessment studies for the “Jadar” project. They are an integral part of the technical documentation. Wherever something is built, the investor is obliged to show how the project will impact the environment. For this project, thousands of analyses, models, calculations, and experiments were conducted to conclude that the project can be safely executed in accordance with the laws and standards of both Serbia and the EU. Therefore, coexistence between industry and nature is possible. However, these are not final versions. If the project continues, further analyses would be needed, along with obtaining certain requirements from the relevant authorities and interested public. But they are complete enough to accurately list the potential impacts – says Prof. Dr. Aleksandar Jovović from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Belgrade in an interview for “Politika.”

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What is the conclusion of the studies? Are there risks to the quality and availability of water in the Jadar Valley, and how would they be prevented?

There are no risks to water supply because the main source for production would be underground mine water and rainwater. Water from the Drina shoreline, not from the riverbed, would be used as needed, but this is not water that could be used for drinking. Moreover, during peak freshwater withdrawals, it would amount to 0.007% of the Drina’s total flow, having no impact on the watercourse and other users. Regarding other risks, the studies conclude that the “Jadar” project will not cause pollution of river streams, including the Jadar, Drina, Sava, and Danube rivers. Special attention was paid to wastewater treatment plants, which would use technologies such as ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange.

Another aspect of the studies that is frequently discussed is the issue of sulfuric acid. How will it be used, stored, and transported?

Sulfuric acid would be used exclusively in closed containers at temperatures well below the boiling point. In no laboratory test did it emit vapors, and if it did, the gases would be cleaned in wet scrubbers before being released into the atmosphere. Calculations and models have shown that the impact of the processing plant on the surrounding air is almost negligible. Other aspects of handling sulfuric acid are designed according to the strictest international safety standards.

How would you define the role of expertise in the context of this project, and how can ordinary citizens stay informed?

I expect NGOs, universities, design companies, and the entire interested public to engage in further discussion of the project to further improve it and position Serbia as a leader in both scientific research and industrial terms in the responsible exploitation of critical materials. To achieve this, we need to discuss based on facts and remove politicking from the narrative. I must say that the negative campaign surrounding the project has harmed our science. Due to the general atmosphere, a facility that would have trained our students and PhD candidates and significantly advanced our scientific capacities was returned to Australia.

What is the experience of working on these studies, and how complex was the task?

These are the most comprehensive and detailed environmental impact assessment studies ever conducted in Serbia. The work was lengthy and complex, starting with the analysis of missing data and studies, followed by the analyses, calculations, and models, evaluating technical solutions, and predicting potential additional measures. Our experience was crucial, both in developing certain models and analyzing data. As a faculty, along with other larger institutions involved, we primarily handle complex solutions.

Is it common to encounter such detailed studies, and how significant is this for the university and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering?

As I mentioned, this is undoubtedly the most detailed study ever conducted, partly due to the complexity of the project and partly because it is a “greenfield” investment. Therefore, it is a great honor and responsibility to have such a significant project entrusted to the faculties and institutes of the University of Belgrade and leading domestic design and consulting firms. On the other hand, it is indisputable that such an important project must be entrusted to the country’s leading institutions, which certainly include the faculties of the University of Belgrade. Our involvement in various analyses, calculations, models, and the study itself is a guarantee of security for the broader public.

There are many comments regarding changes in project solutions over time. Is this a standard practice?

Projects develop over many years, with technical solutions evolving and improving based on calculations and analyses. Accident studies have completely changed the concept of waste disposal. Initially, it was planned to dispose of the waste in liquid form in a large flotation tailings pond. This solution was changed to dry filter cake technology, increasing the stability of the deposit and reducing its volume, dust emissions, and the possibility of groundwater pollution. This solution was further improved to allow up to 50% of the waste to be used for backfilling underground tunnels in the mine, halving the overall surface area of the deposit.

How do you respond to public comments questioning the objectivity of experts working on the studies?

The main criticism is that the study’s investor was also the project investor, Rio Tinto, but this is mandated by EU regulations, many countries worldwide, and our country. It is also logical for the investor to prove the safety and impact of their solutions, while independent bodies evaluate them. The projects will be reviewed by a state revision commission, and the environmental impact studies by the interested public and technical commissions of the relevant authority. When the Ada Bridge was built, the City of Belgrade, as the competent authority, formed a commission with a large number of experts to evaluate the studies.

Source : Politika

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