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The Jadar Project: Can the state enforce legal compliance?

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The Jadar Project can be safely implemented in accordance with the highest environmental protection standards of Serbia and the EU, according to the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study initiated by Rio Tinto, reports N1.

Professor Aleksandar Jovović, who led the study, states that if the project is carried out as described, it will be safe for the environment. However, he notes that the study does not specify how the project will be managed and controlled in the future or if it will have no impacts whatsoever.

Professor Jovović from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering told N1 that no technical solution, from schools or football stadiums to such complex and grand projects, is without certain impacts. “This is why environmental impact studies are conducted. Over six and a half years, research, assessments, modeling, calculations, and experiments were carried out. The study clearly states that the project, if implemented as described, will be safe for the environment. However, how it will be managed and controlled in the future, and whether it will have no impacts, is not specified and should not be communicated as such,” Jovović said.

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He also mentions that companies like Rio Tinto have sometimes caused environmental problems, but have also been drivers of development. “Without large companies and their extensive research centers, little progress would have been made in technology over the years,” he said.

Dušan Vasiljević, an international expert in strategic environmental planning, explains that an EIA consists of three main elements: a snapshot of the current state, the proposed technology, and measures to mitigate negative impacts. The second and third parts are the most risky.

According to him, the current state assessment in this study is impeccable and very well executed. “The existing state assessment is indisputable and very well done. I am not an expert in everything, but what I could see was very detailed. From geomorphological elements to historical, archaeological, and cultural aspects, it’s an excellent database. If Rio Tinto abandons this project, I suggest they hand over the data to the Serbian state for other purposes. It’s perfectly done,” he said.

The problem, he explains, lies in the second and third parts of the study, which rely on the best available techniques and assumptions about what the proposed technology might achieve. “In this specific case, the shortcoming is that jadarite as an ore does not exist anywhere else, and lithium extraction from jadarite on this scale and in this area is unprecedented. Therefore, only assumptions could be made about the outcomes. No one can guarantee the results,” Vasiljević said.

He also highlights the need for a robust legal framework to control the Jadar Project, including a culture of law adherence, punitive measures, incentives, and adequate inspection. “We don’t have enough inspectors; three, four, or five national inspectors are absolutely insufficient. Moreover, in the judiciary, law enforcement is lacking. Companies often know that if they commit an offense, they can drag out administrative procedures indefinitely, making it easier and cheaper to pay a fine than to comply with regulations. We live in a country that is quite insecure for serious investments, while speculative capital thrives and moves quickly,” Vasiljević explained.

He added that such large studies must consider the social element strongly, which this study has left to be assessed over time. “The study does not address how the project will impact the broader community or how to mitigate these impacts. The communication of these data might change general public opinion, but the fundamental question remains: what is the tolerable level of damage that society will accept? There are standards, but also the perceptions of local residents. In my opinion, the social aspect of any intervention, whether it’s building a shoe factory or a rice field, must prioritize its effect on society and how the local or broader community perceives it,” Vasiljević concluded.

Source : Danas

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