High Voltage: Serbian lithium business looms as another community relations headache for Rio Tinto
Our High Voltage column wraps all the news driving ASX stocks with exposure to lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and vanadium.
Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) thinks we’ll need 60 Jadars, a unit of measurement based on the massive scale of its proposed $2.4 billion underground lithium mine in rural Serbia, to fill the lithium shortfall by the end of the decade.
At the moment Rio will be lucky to build one.
The company, which scorched its reputation by blowing up an ancient shelter filled with Aboriginal rock art last year, is again facing accusations of community impropriety around the largest lithium development in Europe, a place where carmakers forced to embrace the EV revolution are desperate to source the battery metal closer to home.
Going for Rio is the size of the resource, contained in a recently discovered mineral called jadarite believed to have similar properties to the fictional kryptonite, and its proximity to Europe’s major auto companies, which are concerned about both China’s grip on the battery supply chain and the greenhouse gas emissions caused by transporting those chemicals across the sea.
Rio has faced three weekends of intense protests from a newly raised coalition of environmental groups and locals against its Jadar mine in the Balkan nation.
Local authorities in Loznica, the city closest to the deposit, have listened, suspending a regional spatial plan that would help the project to proceed.
We know the world needs many multiples of current lithium production to satisfy demand from the battery market and actually make plans to replace traditional automobile production with EVs after 2030 feasible.
But communities suspicious of mining and the pollution operations may cause could have a chilling effect on the pace of the lithium industry’s growth.
Rio has announced it will fund the Jadar mine, which is expected to come online in 2026 pending approvals.
The latter is the tricky part. Rio has a feasibility study and Environmental Impact Assessment in the works.
“These studies are crucial in assessing and reducing impacts that are causing concern,” a company spokesperson said.
Rio Tinto is yet to be awarded an exploration field license; that does not allow construction to start, but is a prerequisite for the EIA process.
As for the Loznica council’s decision, it’s not clear yet exactly what it means, but is understood to not affect “critical workstreams”. Rio is continuing to “review and assess” the town council’s call.
“We will continue to work with a wide group of local and global experts across all aspects of the environmental, social and governance impacts of the Jadar project and have done so for many years,” the spokesperson said.
With Rio’s issues at home in Australia and in Mongolia with the government’s discord over its management of the Oyu Tolgoi mine, Serbia is emerging as yet another diplomatic headache for new chair Dominic Barton, most recently Canada’s ambassador to China.
Here’s how a basket of ASX stocks with exposure to lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and vanadium are performing>>>
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