Rio Tinto announced in July that it would invest $ 2.4 billion in a project in the Jadra Valley in western Serbia, above the Cer and Gucevo mountains, in the construction of what they say is the largest lithium mine in Europe and one of the largest lithium mines in the world. The British “Guardian” also dealt with this project, stating in its text that the inhabitants of the Jadra Valley are afraid of an ecological catastrophe, and that at the same time a commercial showing Rio Tinto as an ecological savior and a bastion of transparency was shown on television.
Over its 150-year history, Rio Tinto has made $ 10.4 billion in profits in 2020, facing allegations of corruption, environmental degradation and human rights violations.
Simon Trot, CEO of Rio Tinto for iron ore, admitted earlier this year that the company was “not proud of its history” at its Marando mine in Western Australia, where hundreds of ancient artifacts were dumped in landfills. This summer, the company agreed to fund an “environmental and human rights impact assessment” of its former copper and gold mine in Panguna, Papua New Guinea, where a billion tons of mine waste is claimed, which continues to produce catastrophic damage.
That is a very problematic past. One critic said Rio Tinto could be seen as a “poster for corporate embezzlement.” But for Rio Tinto’s management, the future is also a cause for concern despite the current big profits. The price of iron ore is under pressure from mass Chinese production, and there are criticisms for managing a copper mine in Mongolia.
The company now estimates that during the expected life of the mine in Serbia, about 40 years, it will produce 2.3 million tons of lithium carbonate for batteries, a mineral critical for large batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, and 160,000 tons of boric acid per year. for renewable energy equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines.
Rio Tinto can “boast” that the mine will make it one of the ten largest lithium producers in the world and could produce enough for more than a million electric cars a year. It expects annual car sales to jump from 1.2 million vehicles in 2017 to at least 23 million in 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.
The EU, with which Serbia has an association agreement that facilitates trade and regional financing, imports all its lithium for batteries outside Europe. Negotiations on the supply of leading German car manufacturers have begun. The Rio Tinta project is gaining momentum, but upset and angry activists, including thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets of Serbian cities in Loznica and Belgrade in recent months, say they are responsible for about a fifth of the country’s catastrophe. agricultural production.
Lithium was accidentally discovered 17 years ago
It has been 17 years since Rio Tinto geologists accidentally discovered lithium in one of two wells in a corn field in the Jadra Valley. The team looked for borates, which are used in fertilizers and building materials, but found something unexpected: borates and lithium in one mineral, a combination that will be named jadarite, named after the valley, writes the Guardian.
Mariana Petković (47), a teacher, who lives with her husband and two daughters in Gornji Nedeljice, one of the nine villages that will be most affected by the mine. He remembers the day they arrived from Rio Tinto.
“They took samples and were there all the time. We met them, invited them for coffee, lunch, for holidays and events – they were Serbs. “Then they talked about a small mine, 20 hectares, and that we would never even know that it was here,” she said.
In the following years, Rio Tinto began making donations for local purposes.
“After a year or two, the mine will be 80 hectares at once. Then, in September last year, we received letters in which we were told that our land had been changed from agricultural to construction. I remember that a friend invited me to her house where a group of women was asked by a lady from Rio Tinto what we wanted from the mine, what opportunities we would be interested in… We were idiots, we didn’t pay attention, “she said.
According to the spatial plan announced by the Government of Serbia in March, the zone of danger of subsidence will cover 850 hectares, the size of more than 1,000 football fields.
The mine will be located on an area of just over 200 hectares on the banks of the Korenita River, a tributary of the Jadra, and several hundred hectares will be separated from landfills and new traffic infrastructure. In 2014, the Korenite flood led to the overflow of the dam into a closed coal mine, spilling toxic material over agricultural land. Rio Tinto says it plans to turn liquid waste from the mine into dry “cakes” to make it safer to store.
The mine will involve the relocation of 81 households, voluntarily or someone else, and the purchase of fields from 293 landowners. The company has already bought 80 percent of the land and property for “unheard of sums”, which in some cases amount to hundreds of thousands of euros, based on payments of 470 euros per square meter.
In the village of Mrs. Petrović, 30 houses were bought. Knowing that their property is destined to be destroyed, the owners remove the windows and doors, and even the roofs, leaving empty scenes for those who have resisted Rio Tinto’s money or have yet to be offered something.
Near the proposed works is the Paulje necropolis from the period 1,500-1,000 BC, the largest cemetery in the central Balkans from the Bronze Age. Rio Tinto paid for the local museum’s archeological excavations, and hundreds of artifacts have been discovered so far.
“They will never redeem me”
Zlatko Kokanovic, 45, a veterinarian who cultivates about 32 hectares of land with his brother, said he rejected Rio Tinto’s attempts to lease the land.
“They will never buy me back – they can only steal it from me,” said the father of five children.
Lithium production in this area can lead to great damage to the environment, creating 57 million tons of waste during the life of the mine, writes the Guardian. The average demand for water is estimated at 6-18 liters per second, which is about 1.3 liters of water for every kilogram of product.
“These mines are mostly opened in deserts precisely because of the harmful impact on the environment. The waterfalls of the rivers Drina and Sava are endangered, from which about 2.5 million people are supplied with water “, says Prof. Dragna Djordjevic, head of the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Engineering at the University of Belgrade.
Rio Tinto, however, denies it. The company commissioned 12 environmental studies, and none were made available to the Guardian. The company declined interview requests.
Although the Jadar project does not yet have the necessary building permits, Rio Tinto is confident that the Serbian Ministry of Environment will give the green light when it submits its environmental impact assessment, later this year.
“Almost all species at this location can be found in Western Serbia or beyond. In other words, there are no species that cannot continue their life outside this territory, which means that the impact on biodiversity will be minimal, “a Rio Tinta spokesman said about the main locality.
Vucic “dies of laughter”
In January, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, said on television that he was “dying of laughter” because of the protest.
“We do not have the sea and natural resources that will bring us millions. We have jadarit and I die laughing when I hear people protesting about it. They are protesting down there, in Western Serbia, because of Rio Tinto, and they say that it will be a catastrophe. No, they won’t. “There will be no catastrophe there,” he said.
Ćuta: Vučić thinks he is God while Gornje Nedeljice looks like Vukovar
Vucic hinted that he could put the issue to a referendum, but Miroslav Mijatovic of the NGO Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team worries that the government is revising the rules on such votes.
“Both the previous government and this current government are clientelistic towards the company and adapt the laws to their needs,” he said.
Rio Tinto says it will create 2,000 jobs during mine construction and 1,000 long-term positions giving a one percent direct and four percent indirect contribution to GDP. But it is difficult for people who are fighting against the plan to see beyond the immediate destruction of the long-standing community and way of life, reports the Guardian.
Dragan Karajčić (51), the president of the parish council, who has corn and soybean fields near the place where the landfill will be, said that Rio Tinto’s record was that he “left deserts behind”.
“Even if they were planning a chocolate factory on behalf of Rio Tinto, I would not give up my country,” he said.
Ratko Ristic, a forestry professor, lobbied at the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts against the Jadar mine, claiming that “the possible benefit for Serbia is between seven and 30 million euros a year, the possible income from advanced agricultural activities in the same area would be more than 80 million euros.” annually without pollution or relocation. ”
The petition against the mine has more than 130,000 signatures, which is about two percent of the population of Serbia. The company already had to pay small amounts of compensation due to leaks in the fields where it conducted research.
The “Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team” filed a criminal complaint with the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Loznica against Rio Tinto, founded in Serbia as Rio Sava Exploration, claiming that it acted contrary to its research permits by illegally dumping waste, and that trucks crossed weak bridges.
Rio Tinto claims that it has not been contacted regarding these allegations, and the competent authorities have confirmed that the activities of Rio Sava Exploration are in accordance with the applicable legislation.