Shortly after Australia decided to kick Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic out of the country for being unvaccinated, Serbia has announced that it is cancelling the lithium mining licenses of Australian mining company Rio Tinto. Reuters reports:
Serbia revoked Rio Tinto’s (RIO.L) lithium exploration licences on Thursday, bowing to protesters who opposed the development of the project by the Anglo-Australian mining giant on environmental grounds.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the government’s decision came after requests by various green groups to halt the$2.4 billion Jadar lithium project which, if completed, would help make Rio a top 10 lithium producer.
“All decisions (linked to the lithium project) and all licences have been annulled,” Brnabic told reporters after a government session. “As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.”
Earlier this week, Rio had pushed back the timeline for first production from Jadar by one year to 2027, citing delays in key approvals.
Rio Tinto said it was “extremely concerned” by Serbia’s decision and was reviewing the legal basis for it.
The company committed to the project just last year, as global miners pushed into the metals needed for the green energy transition, including lithium, which is used to make electric vehicle batteries.
The mine was slated to produce enough lithium to power 1 million electric vehicles, in addition to boric acid, used in ceramics and batteries, and sodium sulphate, used in detergents. At full capacity, the mine was expected to produce 58,000 tonnes of refined battery-grade lithium carbonate per year, making it Europe’s biggest lithium mine by output.
Brnabic accused Rio Tinto of providing insufficient information to communities about the project. In a statement, Rio said “it had always operated in compliance” with Serbian laws.
Thousands of people blocked roads last year in protest against the government’s backing of the project, demanding Rio Tinto leave the country and forcing the local municipality to scrap a plan to allocate land for the facility.
Thursday’s decision comes as Serbia approaches a general election in April and as relations between Belgrade and Australia have soured after Sunday’s high-profile deportation of tennis star Novak Djokovic from Australia over the country’s COVID-19 entry rules.
Read more here.