Amendments to the Law on Mining and Geological Research from 2018 made by the government of Serbia have left the doors ajar for opening new mines through loose procedures. This is a consequence of direct lobbying of foreign capital against the decision of domestic decision-makers.
The pressure of interest groups on local communities in Serbia to accept the opening of large and dangerous mining projects has significantly increased over the past year. Without key information about the consequences of these projects on the environment and public health, it is difficult for citizens to judge what will the new mining ventures bring to their communities.
The Chinese company Zijin Mining Group took over RTB “Bor” and bought shares for the deposits in a new gold and copper mine, “Čukaru Peki,” from the companies Rio Tinto (Australia), Nevsun (Canada) and Freeport McMoRan (USA). After fifteen years of exploration of large jadarite (lithium) deposits near Loznica by Rio Sava Exploration (daughter company of Rio Tinto), the opening of the mine is likely reaching its final phases , despite growing resistance of the local community.
In November 2020, the public was informed that Serbia Zijin Copper received the approval of the Serbian Government to double the production in the mine near Majdanpek, without a conclusive study on the environmental impact. Aside from the fact that most of the profits from these projects will flow out of the country, another harrowing outcome is the heavy and long-lasting pollution – a price that will be paid with citizen’s health and taxpayer’s money.[5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11]
The state of the Bor River, also called the Dead River, clearly shows the dangers of poorly controlled, intensive mining. Looking at the bad examples from eastern Serbia, the fear of Jadar valley inhabitants is completely justified. On another note, the consequences of the exploration activities are still evident in the groundwaters. Serbian citizens have been gradually losing their faith in deteriorating state institutions and the rule of law for decades, afraid of pollution and health damages that are present in Bor [5, 8], Smederevo , the Grand Bačka Canal , Pančevo , Prahovo , Kostolac  and elsewhere.
Another example justifies the fear of the people from Jadar Valley, and that is their own experience with lead and antimony mines in Zajača and Stolice. Mining companies promised thousands of jobs for the residents of that area, and apart from a modest income for a few, they left behind only tailings full of heavy metals and toxins that have been polluting the environment for years. Several analyses have shown increased levels of lead in the blood of children from this area, and during the floods in 2014, all the toxins from 1.2 million tons of mining waste poured through 100,000 m3 of sludge and spread onto the wider area. These events have had far-reaching and inconceivable consequences.
Before giving permission for opening a jadarite mine near Loznica, investors and the state of Serbia should adhere to domestic and international regulations to ensure the health and safety of both citizens and the environment, instead of relying on pompous announcements.
There are four essential facts that have been overlooked by decision-makers:
1. According to Article 6 of the Law on Mining and Geological Research (“Official Gazette of RS” No. 101/2015 and 95/2018) it is declared that conducting geological research and exploitation of mineral reserves and geothermal resources in the area which is a protected area of nature, a source of special importance for regional water supply, has cultural-historical, architectural, or touristic significance, or is protected in any way, can be approved only under conditions issued by the responsible authorities and organizations for issuing spatial planning conditions, in accordance with specific laws, protection of nature and the environment, cultural heritage and other bodies and organizations responsible for the relevant area.
The village of Brezjak and the site of Paulje are the most important archaeological sites from the Late Bronze Age in Serbia, and one of the most important ones in the wider region of the Central Balkans. There are 50 large tumuli at this place, of which only 27 were explored by 2019. It could undoubtedly be a major tourist attraction of international importance, yet the opening of mines and the construction of tailings are planned in this very area.
2. Water is not a commercial product, but a natural heritage that must be preserved and respected as a life-giving resource. In river basins where water use may have transboundary impacts, the requirements for achieving environmental protection objectives are established by the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. In that sense, all programs of measures should be established for the entire river basin district. The Republic of Serbia has ratified the mentioned convention (“Official Gazette of RS – International Agreements”, No. 1/10), and since November 2010 it has become a signatory to the Convention. The opening of the jadarite mine would lead to a significant increase in the use and pollution of surface and groundwaters. We do not know whether an agreement has been signed with Bosnia and Herzegovina, i.e. whether the neighboring country has been informed about the threat of a possible significant transboundary source of pollution.
3. Jadar is a small but unpredictable river that often floods. Floods and heavy rainfall can lead to the effusion of tailings and accompanying environmental disasters. This is exactly what happened to Jadar in 2014, and the locals have many reasons to worry about their safety. As floods and other weather disasters have become more frequent in recent years, the formation of large tailings in the Jadar Valley would be a real environmental time bomb. What solutions does the investor offer?
4. Did any of the responsible institutions perform long-term socio-economic research of:
1) total profit currently generated by agricultural and other activities in the Jadar Valley on an annual basis;
2) total profits of the Republic of Serbia realized from the use of jadarite ore during the entire exploitation period;
3) the total profit from agriculture (e.g. organic) and other activities that would be realized if the state invested the same amount of funds as it plans to invest in support of the opening of the mine?
The opinion of experts indicates that the ore rent in Serbia is very low , and the profitability of such projects with the use of limited ore resources is questionable. If we take into account the estimate that the value of lithium in this deposit is around $10 billion , that the ore rent proposed by law is 5% and that the state takes an additional 15% profit, it is clear that this is not a saving project for Serbia’s exhausted economy. In fact, that profit will not be enough to repair the consequences of land and water pollution, especially not if the pollution of the Drina River reaches other transboundary rivers, like Sava and Danube.
An especially bothersome side of this story is the hidden danger in the form of unpredictable and unpreventable long-term effects on public health and safety. According to the Republic Directorate for Waters, and in the light of the current global aspirations, the largest investments in Serbia in the near future must be directed to the collection, disposal and treatment of wastewater.
Source text provided by the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia.
If you want to learn firsthand information about Rio Tinto in Serbia, take a look at Zaštitimo Jadar i Rađevinu.