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Rio Tinto Set to Unveil Initial Study Results

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Mining giant Rio Tinto denies activists’ claims of plans to relocate one hundred thousand people from the Jadar Valley. The company states that it is ready to publish the draft study on the impact of the lithium mine on the environment. The study lists numerous risks but none of the apocalyptic ones mentioned by the mine opponents.

Rio Tinto has stated that the information claiming the relocation of over one hundred thousand people due to the Jadar project is ‘absolutely inaccurate.’

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This information was cited over the weekend by some opponents of lithium mining, without specifying the source of this data. For instance, the ‘Kreni-promeni’ movement mentioned on Sunday on the X network that President Aleksandar Vučić ‘does not mind relocating 100,000 people in Jadar because of Rio Tinto.

The leader of that movement, Savo Manojlović, previously said in an appearance on Nova S television that he understood it that way because President Vučić had earlier mentioned that 110,000 people live in the region.

Presenting his ‘Marshall Plan’ on Saturday in a live broadcast on over forty TV channels, Vučić mentioned that figure, estimating that there are so many people living in the stretch from Loznica to Bajina Bašta.

He stated that these people have less work today, and it would be different if 2,000 of them were employed with a minimum wage of a thousand euros, referring to the lithium production chain.

Already sold 51 households

However, Rio Tinto reiterates that the Jadar project affects 52 households, all of which, except one, have been ‘voluntarily’ sold to Rio Tinto and already relocated.

The ownership of Rio Tinto over a significant part of the land in Gornje Nedeljice in western Serbia was mentioned by outgoing Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, who stated that this land cannot be taken from the company because it would mean ‘nationalization’ and legal uncertainty for everyone.

In the statement, Rio Tinto further stated that, to demonstrate its ‘readiness for an open discussion,’ it is prepared to ‘publicly disclose the draft Environmental Impact Assessment Study in its current form.’

However, the internal document of the company, extensively quoting from the draft study, was obtained by the weekly magazine ‘Vreme’ two years ago when the Jadar project was officially halted. The draft mentioned numerous environmental risks but did not address mass resettlement or scenarios of poisoning the Jadar, Drina, and Sava rivers, as warned by some activists and experts.

As we wrote back then, the complete study would have around six hundred pages and additional tables and graphics, delving into banal details. For example, it mentioned the need to monitor the wheels of construction machines to minimize dust, and the provision of free condoms in the workers’ accommodation.

Over six decades, 9.5 million tons of material would be excavated to produce lithium carbonate, boric acid, and sodium sulfate. Three years after starting operations, the mine and the adjacent processing plant would reach their maximum capacity.

The document states that workers would operate in three shifts of eight hours each, with a one-hour break and half an hour for entering and exiting the mine shaft. This is because the 8.5-meter-diameter shaft goes to a depth of 433.45 meters, from where the ore is extracted.

The maximum number of workers in the mine would be 526. ‘It is expected that 90 percent of the workforce will be from Serbia, so many of them are expected to live in that area,’ excerpts from the study state.

The best solution for obtaining water is mentioned as the alluvium of the Drina River, while treated wastewater would be discharged into the Jadar. ‘The planned system for collecting runoff water will be needed for several years after closure, and possibly forever,’ it states in this paper.

They claim that the wells were already contaminated

As part of the study, Rio Tinto is obligated to state the existing ‘zero state’ of the environment before commencing operations.

In the document we accessed at that time, Rio Tinto states that the groundwater in the alluvium of the Korenita and Jadar rivers ‘is characterized by poorer quality’ in the area where the ore is located.

Allegedly, in February 2021, they found that water from 38 out of 40 wells was microbiologically unfit, and in five wells, the boron content exceeded one milligram per liter.

The draft Study stated: ‘The consequences of conducting surface works may worsen the existing quality of groundwater and bring changes to the level regime and directions of movement of groundwater from the first aquifer, given that they generally follow the morphology of the terrain.

“According to the company’s internal risk assessment, the greatest risk to human health and the environment is identified for the process water pond,” the document states. In the case of poor construction, earthquakes, or extreme weather events, water could spill out of the ponds:

“The environmental impact is not modeled in detail, but it is estimated that this would jeopardize the environment beyond the boundaries of the complex,” as stated in the excerpts.

The study would have to be made publicly available

In the internal document, “potential accident scenarios” that could have significant consequences for “work and the environment” are listed. For instance, when storing around fifty tons of explosives in the underground storage facility (which is also the maximum amount according to the law).

Since the Jadar Valley is home to dozens of protected animal and plant species, Rio Tinto outlines various measures. For example, if forests are cleared for the mine, lime, field ash, hornbeam, and oak trees must be planted.

Or, that the construction site must not be prepared between March and mid-July because birds nest during that period. Workers must also relocate any encountered nests.

Experts familiar with the topic told us that it’s not surprising that the company essentially finished the study in advance. First, they have been there for fifteen years, collecting various data. Second, some general points are copied from studies conducted for other mines.

Unlike the document we obtained, the final study would have numerous technical details that Rio Tinto currently keeps as “trade secrets.”

If the Jadar project were to be reactivated, the study would have to undergo public scrutiny, criticism, and comments, as well as review by the technical commission of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. This process could take months, assuming Rio Tinto ever receives the green light to present the study.

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