Serbian lithium mining project provokes heavy protests

Last week, heavy protests arose again against a large lithium project in western Serbia. Rio Tinto, the Australian mining giant, wants to exploit the thousands of tons of lithium abounding in this region. However, the demonstrators fear pollution of the soil and air.

The ‘Jadar mine’, as the project is called, refers to the Jadar River, which flows nearby. The mine was discovered in 2004, and, according to Rio Tinto, it could produce annually 58,000 tons of lithium carbonate, 160,000 tons of boric acid, and 255,000 tons of sodium sulfate, which would make it one of the most important deposits in Europe for lithium. However, opponents fear this underground mine will pollute the soil, water, and air.

‘Irreversible devastation’

“The project would mean irreversible devastation,” says Zlatko Kokanovic, vice-president of the ‘Ne Damo Jadar’ protest association. “It would leave us without pure water and pollute the air and the soil.” According to the protesters, Rio Tinto is not transparent about the permitting process for the mine, which should open in 2028.

For the Australian mining giant, these fears are unfounded. The company published a study in mid-June explaining that all possible measures will be taken to limit environmental impacts. The company has said that the mine will create thousands of jobs and give Serbia a strong position in the market for raw materials for the energy transition.

Earlier protests

It is not the first time mining activities in the region have caused protests. In 2021, large demonstrations in Belgrade stopped this project to extract several tens of thousands of tons of lithium per year in this region. At the beginning of 2022, Belgrade withdrew the permit for the mine plans.

This time, the protesters have issued an ultimatum of 40 days to close the mine. They also want the ban included in the law. If the law is not adopted on the 41st day, they will block the country and harass the government.

Prime Minister Milos Vucecis told AFP on Tuesday that he would never let “anyone destroy rivers, fields, forests, or mountains”. “But if Serbia has such economic potential that is interesting for the entire European continent, then this can be a turning point not only economically but also politically,” he added.


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