Thousands of people in Belgrade and other Serbian towns blocked main roads and bridges over the weekend for hours in anti-government protests, targeting two new laws that environmentalists say will let foreign companies take advantage of local resources.
The demonstrators protested against Rio Tinto’s Jadar lithium project and Zijin Mining’s recently opened Cukaru Peki copper and gold mine, which they claim will pollute land and water in the Balkan nation.
Holding banners that read: “Stop investors, save nature, we are not giving up on nature in Serbia,” and chanting “Rio Tinto get away from the Drina river”, the protests were mirrored abroad. Activists gathered in Berlin, New York and at Rio Tinto’s headquarters in London.
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic shared a photograph of the protest on Instagram and commented “clean air, water and food are keys to health.”
“Without that, every word about ‘health’ is obsolete,” Djokovic wrote.
Ljudi ❤️— Kristina 🐾 (@kris_urosevic) December 4, 2021
Jadar, discovered by Rio Tinto geologists in 2004, is one of the largest greenfield lithium projects currently in development. It has the potential to produce about 58,000 tonnes of battery grade lithium carbonate per year.
The world’s second-largest miner, which greenlighted the project in July, has repeatedly warned of an imminent and “significant” supply gap for lithium, as demand for the metal used in electric vehicles (EV) and green technologies continues to soar.
Rio Tinto estimates that committed supply and capacity expansions will contribute about 15% to demand growth over the 2020-2050 period. The remaining 85% would need to come from new projects.
To put the situation in perspective, the miner’s head of economics Vivek Tulpule said in October that filling the supply gap will require more than 60 Jadar projects.
Rio’s project, located in western Serbia, would produce enough lithium to power one million EVs. It will also produce boric acid, used in ceramics and batteries, and sodium sulphate, used in detergents.
Mine construction is expected to begin early next year, subject to environmental approvals, with the first production in 2026.
Once in operations, Jadar mine would supply mainly the European market, one of the world’s largest growing EV markets.
Following ramp up to full production in 2029, the mine would produce 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, 160,000 tonnes of boric acid and 255,000 tonnes of sodium sulphate a year.
In only three years, British car makers will have to source local electric car batteries as set by the Brexit free trade deal inked in 2020.
Under the agreement, all European trade in cars and parts will continue to be free of tariffs or quotas after the Brexit transition period ended on December 31, as long as they contain enough content from either UK or EU factories.
Batteries will at first be allowed to have up to 70% of materials from countries outside the EU. From 2024 onwards, that requirement will tighten to 50%.
The EU is currently constructing large-scale battery cell factories. European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic has said that by 2025, the planned facilities would produce cells to power at last six million electric vehicles.
Over the past five years, the miner has tried to expand its footprint in the battery market. In 2018, Rio reportedly attempted to buy a $5bn stake in Chile’s Chemical and Mining Society (SQM), the world’s second largest lithium producer.
In April this year, it kicked off lithium production from waste rock at a demonstration plant located at a borates mine it controls in California.
Rio invested $10 million to build the pilot plant that will be able to produce 10 tonnes a year of lithium-carbonate. By the end of the year, and based on the trial’s results, it will decide whether or not to spend a further $50 million in an industrial-scale plant with annual capacity of 5,000 tonnes a year — enough for around 15,000 Tesla Model S batteries.
The projected production would be roughly the same as the capacity of Albemarle ’s Silver Peak mine in Nevada, which is currently the only lithium-carbonate producing asset in the country, according to the US Geological Survey.
Serbia’s government anticipates the country’s booming mining sector will start generating between 4% and 5% of its total GDP in less than 10 years, a significant increase from its current 2%.
(With files from Reuters)
So, what are the main concerns of the protesters?
One major concern for environmentalists is Rio’s plan to put waste dumps in the Korenita and Jadar rivers valley, an area prone to flash flooding.
In 2014, Korenita river flooding caused a closed mine’s tailings dam to overflow, spilling toxic waste onto agricultural land.
The main concern is pollution of water and land. That is fertile land in question (not some desolated area), that has been used by local farmers for hundreds of years for food production. Drina river is one of few clean rivers, a decade ago you could drink water straight from the river. It’s main water supply for towns in that area. And then again Rio Tinto is buying it for some low price – 160e for 100sq meter, and government is changing laws to accelerate the process for Rio Tinto and maybe even lower the price to 50-100e per 100sq meters… Those people are going to be homeless in few years since you cannot buy anything for that money and they’re going to stay without source of income, since they’re farmers, not some office work force…
Farmers will not sell their land for even higher prize. It is to be or not to be because of the hole pollution of Serbia.
The article didn’t give all the facts,
Number 1: over the last two years Serbian cities have had the worst air quality. Why would they want more pollution into their country?
Number 2: Rio Tinto has gotten the government to introduce an expropriation law which would let them buy vast amounts of land, even if inhabited, for pennies and those that reside would be forced to move.
Number 3: Given Rio Tinto’s record for destroying natural heritage sites like in Australia, one could hardly have faith in them disposing of waste ethically and appropriately.
In South Africa, we have areas that are more irradiated than parts of Chernobyl, but it’s kept under wraps because it’s mining. Our Uranium levels in our water are far above what is considered safe. Where pipes have burst near mines the trees appear solid metal because of all the heavy metals, and the plants in the surrounding areas are covered in tumours. Our country is large so you won’t see that, Serbia is a tiny land with 7 million people, they will be immediately affected by it and receive no benefit as all the profits will disappear to the west and into the pockets of their politicians.
Thank you for contributing with your insights on the matter.
If Drina is polluted than Sava river is polluted too, and if Sava is polluted than DANUBE RIVER is gone.. nature goes in circle, doesn’t recognize borders. All Europe should be concern.
also, protest is about expropriation law, The draft law on expropriation is to be debated in the coming days in parliament, which is dominated by parties allied to Vucic.
The law would allow for expedited expropriations of private property if it is considered to be in the public interest. The draft law on referendums would lower turnout requirements for such votes.,
People either have to accept that mines need to be built. Otherwise things will become so expensive. We have come this far and developing out of necessity. Rio don’t have the best reputation is an international company.
If you like so much produce of lithium, why don’t you do in your own country? This protest is to save our enviroment.. We Serbs don’t want to sacritice our fatherland for sake of your way of green energy.. There is more potential to mine lithium in Germany and USA but I don heared that project.. If Rio Tinto is so safe to produce green energy, why don’ t you allow in your on turf. Lithium battery are became past, just becaues of how much polition case while producing.. I just can’t stand by your text here.. How can you sleep at night?