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New Caledonia nickel mine trashed after chemical spill

29 May 2014

The Goro nickel mine in New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the Western Pacific, has been seriously damaged by local protesters after a chemical spill from the mine. Earlier this month the Canadian operator, Vale, was ordered to suspend operations at its $6 billion mine after 10,000 litres of acid effluent spilled into a creek and killed thousands of fish. 

Goro mine tailings dam
Goro mine tailings dam

This was the fifth major spill at the plant in as many years.

According to local sources, plans to reopen the plant under new environmental and procedural rules brought protesters onto the mine site, where they torched vehicles, equipment and buildings, using mine site vehicles to ward off police. Local media reported that several shots were also fired by the angry mob, with 14 reportedly arrested. The cost of the damage is estimated to be $30 million.

The situation eased on May 26 after talks were held between members of the activist group, believed to be from local tribes, and New Caledonia’s Customary Senate.

The project, where Vale is testing an unconventional nickel treatment method called high-pressure acid leaching, has been controversial.

Several chemical spills have been reported over the last few years, including during commissioning in 2009 when more than 40,000 litres of acid spilt, 2 500 of which ended up in the river.

The Goro mine produced 4,100 tonnes of nickel in the first quarter, up 41% on a year ago. Plant production annual capacity is 60,000 tonnes.

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