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“White Gold” and a Dark Future: The Cost of Jadar and Rađevina

The answer to the question of how much Jadar and Rađevina cost has not been given, nor will it be given as long as the destruction of landscapes and the relocation of populations are considered inevitable damages that have not been assessed, and lithium is considered “white gold” more valuable than anything else. When something is not assessed, it is either trivial or it has no value (price) until it is assessed. This question was posed at the gathering in SANU (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts) “Project Jadar – What is Known?”. Even then, the answer was not given or was avoided as if Jadar were on another, lifeless planet.

The only things known then, and not much more is known today, are the approximate technology for obtaining lithium carbonate and borates from jadarite ore by leaching with concentrated sulfuric acid, the estimated cost of production, the planned duration of exploitation, and most likely, the profit of the company that will carry out the exploitation. And yes, according to current regulations, the mining royalty that the state will collect is about five percent of the profit earned by the foreign company.

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If we were to clarify the question from the beginning of this text, it would be: what is the value of the natural and human-created and maintained biological resources on the surface of the ore deposit, and the surface and especially the underground waters that would be used in huge quantities in the lithium extraction process. And the value of all this compared to the “white gold” that will mostly benefit the profit of the foreign mining company. The fact that water as a natural resource is of vital importance for the future of any society is also ignored, and finally, but not least, the population that lives and works from these resources.

In addition, the value of biodiversity, the ecosystem services of natural vegetation, especially forest ecosystems, and agricultural land is completely ignored, at a time when obvious climate disturbances (climate changes) are a global problem with increasing challenges for any human community.

Paradoxically, by ignoring the importance of nature in mitigating the effects of climate disturbances, megaprojects are favored that lead to increasingly visible negative consequences. The problem of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, which increases the greenhouse effect and global warming, cannot be solved with carbon dioxide vacuums or the deposition of waste biomass in anoxic parts of the sea (e.g., the Black Sea), which are offered as salvation solutions while the assimilation potential that can bind and/or deposit the excess carbon dioxide in biomass and soil is still ruthlessly destroyed.

So far, experiences indicate that the idea of sustainability and sustainable development, which is ubiquitous in various international and domestically copied documents, is a dead letter on paper. Biodiversity conservation is fundamentally part of the sustainability agenda. In practice, everything is contrary to that idea—from the exploitation of natural resources, and the faster and more the better, to the absence of restraint when it comes to the profit of those who exploit resources uncontrollably.

In this context, the idea of building a mine in Jadar should be viewed, as well as all those projects that design and prepare the territory of Serbia as a state of mining and dirty technologies. It is no wonder that foreign companies flock to Serbia when they see how the state and a good part of the population treat their own environment. The excuse that this is necessary and that all countries have gone through this Machiavellian phase of natural resource destruction, and that they will only later come to their senses when society becomes rich, but also realizes that “the devil took the joke,” simply does not hold.

Proponents of the construction of the mine in Jadar try to minimize the environmental damage by swearing by the highest ecological standards in mining, which they even proclaim as “green mining,” a general cliché. Systematically calling something green, which at best can only be figuratively green (since only chlorophyll in plants is truly green), and creating the illusion that the problem is or will be solved, is far from meaningful. It would be more accurate to say “environmentally responsible mining.” This is very rarely applied in the world. Such mining implies that all damages are minimized to the greatest extent possible. For example, in such cases, the waste material extracted from the ore deposit is returned to the exploited part of the mine after processing as tailings. It is clear that this drastically increases the costs of exploitation, making it increasingly less profitable.

Why such a rush for Serbia’s mineral wealth?

The basic question arises naturally: why such a rush for Serbia’s mineral wealth? Why do foreign mining companies come to Serbia, and what attracts them so much? I think the answer is quite simple, and it boils down to the fact that the state’s attitude towards environmental conservation is the last “hole in the flute,” which is evident almost everywhere, from air pollution to watercourses, which are waste water collectors, to garbage and waste dumps in various places, the destruction of nature, the non-enforcement of laws, poorly conducted environmental impact studies, various projects that are dead letters on paper, the attitude of the population towards the environment they live in, and so on, because the list would be really long.

On the other hand, there is noticeable dysfunctionality, incompetence of institutions, lack of transparency in decisions and finances, and corruption, which makes this society seriously ill.

In one word, Serbia is a country where often hasty and unconsidered projects can be realized through non-transparent agreements. Speaking about the Jadar project with the residents of Gornje Nedeljice, the President of Serbia said that “we do not have the right to destroy the lives of more people than was foreseen by the original plans,” which most directly shows how uncritically and thoughtlessly the Jadar project was approved and left to Rio Tinto, to begin relocation and convincing the population with well-packaged propaganda and offers that cannot be refused.

On the other hand, it clearly shows the state’s irresponsible attitude towards the environment and natural resources, including the population that lives and works there. In one word, everything started clumsily, as is usually the case when there is no clear insight into the technological process and its consequences, except for the declaration that everything will be up to the latest standards, which is a common place in Rio Tinto’s propaganda portfolio. The gathering at SANU highlighted all the shortcomings and ambiguities of this project, especially from those actors engaged by Rio Tinto in preparing the study, related to the projection of the industrial-mining process and facilities and the disposal of mining tailings that remain after the production of lithium carbonate, as well as the infrastructure of the complex, water supply for the process, etc. Engaged experts from the Faculty of Mining and Geology and the “Jaroslav Černi” Institute predictably gave the green light for the mine construction project, while those from the Faculty of Biology and the Faculty of Forestry, who assessed the biodiversity and human-created and maintained values on the surface of the ore deposit, gave a negative evaluation of this project.

Serbia must stop with such reckless and superficially assessed projects and consider how it will develop further. In any case, the practice of selling off resources and designing excessive and oversized projects, which is currently happening, should cease. Serbia’s development opportunity lies in organizing and putting in order many aspects of society. To start with, one of the sure development opportunities could be to improve the neglected environment, as this is a major and long-term task, given that the pervasive neglect has lasted for a very long time. At least our air and watercourses should be cleaner, and the relentless conversion of agricultural and forest land into construction and industrial land should stop.

The case of the proposed mine in Jadar is a paradigm of environmentally and socially irresponsible behavior which, if realized, would prove that the old practice of selling off and managing natural resources continues to the detriment of the harmonious and balanced life of the population that has lived and survived in this part of Serbia for centuries, in a beautiful, gentle, and fertile region. Therefore, the value of the Jadar region far exceeds the money from lithium carbonate, which Rio Tinto will collect, and which, after the exploitation, as usually happens, will leave desolation behind.

Source: NIN

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