The central province of Ha Tinh’s Department of Science and Technology (DoST) proposed shutting down Thach Khe iron mine – the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia – to protect the environment.
Thach Khe iron mine in the central province of Ha Tinh.
The proposal was issued at a conference on assessing the situation and efficiency of the mine, held by the Viet Nam Mining Coalition and the Viet Nam Union of Geological Sciences in Ha Noi on Friday.
According to Director of Ha Tinh’s DoST Do Khoa Van the mine covers a large area in six coastal communes in Thach Ha District. It is estimated to have 544 million tonnes of iron ore reserves.
In 2007, in order to meet the demand of domestic steel mills, the Government decided to begin mining activities at the site. The investor was Thach Khe Iron Joint Stock Company, including nine shareholders with chartered capital of VND2.4 trillion (US$102.7 million), of which the Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin or TKV) was the main shareholder.
The project was estimated to cost VND1.59 trillion, which included the cost of relocating 3,000 households.
In 2009, the company began testing open-cast coal mining, but stopped in 2011 when the Government decided to suspend mining operations at the site. Van said the decision was a temporary measure by the Prime Minister to deal with problems in the implementation process. The suspension was intended to allow time to restructure the enterprise and investment capital, complete the design and solve site clearance issues.
In a document issued on November 16, 2017, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) said that after ten years of implementation, the project had problems related to technology, safety and the environment.
MoNRE said it was necessary to solve these problems in a thorough, scientific manner. This would involve the stabilisation of mine banks to prevent landslides and finding solutions for mine drainage and salinity.
“The view of Ha Tinh Province is that we should stop the project to protect the environment, rather than changing the environment for economic development at all costs,” said Van. “We must consider the benefits, aspirations and justifiable interests of people in the project site.”
Deputy general secretary of the Viet Nam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) Le Cong Luong said the legal basis for re-starting the project was not yet complete amidst emerging new environmental protection requirements.
“The project’s economic efficiency is low when we have to invest so much to protect the environment, prevent landslides and ensure drainage,” Luong said. “The use of resources is not high and there is not yet a feasible plan to consume products.”
If technological solutions are not feasible, natural disasters or complex geological problems will cause landslides, flooding the mines and leading to financial losses. At the same time, the project will greatly affect the road infrastructure and local port. Luong said the investors had not found a satisfactory method of transporting iron without the risk of pollution.
VUSTA proposed continuing the project if the investors would solve environmental and technological problems as well as ensure its social-economic efficiency.
“If the problems were solved, it would be necessary to develop the project area into a township tied to coastal tourism like Cua Lo in the neighbouring province of Nghe An,” said Luong.
Pham Quang Tu, a representative from Oxfam Viet Nam, said the mine still drew mixed opinions from ministries, agencies and Ha Tinh Province in terms of its economic efficiency, environmental concerns and social impact.
“The Prime Minister assigned the relevant ministries and the People’s Committee of the province to re-evaluate the project in the first quarter of this year; however, the participants have not been able to reach an agreement,” said Tu. — VNS
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