Vale SA Nickel Mine: Production to Restart after Suspension
New Caledonia to allow conditional restart of Vale nickel mine after chemical spill and riots
Brazilian mining company, Vale SA, has announced the revival of its nickel mine after receiving permission from New Caledonian authorities to restart production. A chemical spill earlier this month caused operations to be suspended.
According to the Goro providence, authorities are ready to issue an authorization to restart mining activities in the new few days.
"The president of the Southern Province will issue by the end of the day or in the next few days an authorisation to restart the mining activities," a spokeswoman for the province told Reuters by telephone from the French-administered island.
The company’s $6 billion plant at Goro in southern New Caledonia had leaked some 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent into a river earlier this month, killing roughly 1,000 fish. The spill sparked a massive outrage last week with protestors causing tens of millions of dollars in damages to vehicles, equipment and buildings at the mining site. Police remain on high alert as protesters continue to be visible near the plant.
The nickel mine has been plagued with environmental troubles and protests in recent years. The plant employs high pressure technology and acids to leach nickel from abundant tropical laterite ores. The Southern Province of French-administered Pacific island said it was Vale’s sixth major incident at the Goro site and implemented safety standards as a condition of the mine resuming.
The decision to reopen the mine came after an independent expert’s report said it was not opposed to the restart of the operations. The report, which was submitted by “Institut National de I’Environnement Industriel et des Risques”, a national environmental safety body, recommended the reinforcement of security measures, audit of safety management and the establishment of a third-party surveillance committee.
Nickel mining is a major industry in New Caledonia with as much as a quarter of the world’s known reserves. The Vale plant is the second-largest employer in the southern province, with some 3,500 employees and contractors.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.