The Serbian government has suspended Rio Tinto’s construction of a massive lithium plant in the country after environmental activists protested for weeks in Belgrade and throughout other major cities. Thousands of protesters shut down roads in the Serbian capital as they coalesced in opposition of Rio Tinto’s mine, per the BBC. Rio’s proposed Jadar mine had been pending the results from several environmental impact studies ahead of its groundbreaking in 2022.
Lithium, as I’m sure you know, is one of the metals that’s crucial for battery development — a form of production that’s been in growing demand thanks to automaker and national commitments to change from gas- to battery-powered vehicles, or EVs.
Now the Serbian prime minister, Ana Brnabić, has withdrawn Rio Tinto’s exploratory licenses and revoked its mining permits. The PM’s statement, cited by the BBC, was definitive:
“All permits were annulled... we put an end to Rio Tinto in Serbia,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Thursday
Speaking at a news conference in Belgrade on Thursday, Ms Brnabic - Serbia’s first woman and first openly gay prime minister - said the decision to abandon the $2.4bn (£1.8bn; A$3.3bn) Jadar lithium mine was made in response to requests from environmental groups.
The environmental groups and activists cited concerns of water contamination and irreparable damage to the western Jadar Valley.
Brnabić accused Rio Tinto of providing communities near the mine with “insufficient information about the project.” The town of Loznica has rescinded land allocation proposals, while the Serbian government also withdrew a couple of laws that activists claimed were drafted to speed up mining projects in the country, as Radio Free Europe reports.
After the PM’s statements, Rio Tinto shares tumbled in Australia and London by as much as 4 percent. The decline adds to Rio Tinto’s losses and prompted a legal response from the mining major against Serbia, as Reuters notes:
“We obviously are very concerned about the comments made by the prime minister,” Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm told Reuters in an interview.
Rio is reviewing the legal basis for the decision and could sue Serbia as it tries to salvage the $2.4 billion project.
Rio Tinto had projected that couple of billion and change would ultimately produce the largest lithium mine in Europe and yield nearly 64,000 tons of the battery metal per year after scaling to full production by about 2029. Yeah, it sounds like that timeline is going to need some looking at, Rio.