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New $1.5 billion nickel mine can start dumping waste in PNG ocean

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Australia’s Highlands Pacific and China Metallurgical Group can now power on their $1.5 billion Ramu nickel project in Papua New Guinea after a judge threw out the environmental challenge to the project’s planned deep-sea disposal of tailings after an 18-month legal battle.

Ramu is situated on Papua New Guinea’s north-west coast and is completely built – annual production is estimated at more than 31,000 tonnes of nickel and 3,300 tonnes of cobalt for over 20 years.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports ocean disposal of tailings is frowned on elsewhere in the world but is common practice in PNG because of the availability of deep-water settings close to shore. The country’s high rainfall and rugged terrain have created problems in the past for the normal global practice of land-based tailings dams.

ABC Radio Australia reports Ramu landowners said they were shocked by the decision – they argued the waste dump would have a disastrous impact on the environment and their way of life. The justice agreed with landowners that there would be significant environmental impact, but said the government had already approved the dumping.

Aerial photo of the coast of Papua New Guinea is by Byelikova Oksana /