Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto is extremely concerned by the statement from Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic about cancelling the spatial plan and revoking licences related to the Jadar lithium project, the company tells Kallanish.

“Throughout our work on the Jadar Project, we have always operated in compliance with the laws of the Republic of Serbia,” the enterprise claims. “Rio Tinto is reviewing the legal basis of this decision and the implications to our activities, and our people in Serbia.”

Earlier, Serbia cancelled the exploration licenses of Rio Tinto, scrapping $2.4 billion in plans to develop the unique lithium-borate deposit in western Serbia. It planned to produce up to 58,000 tonnes/year of lithium carbonate equivalent by 2029, making it the largest lithium supplier in Europe for at least 15 years, according to the company.

On a cumulative basis, it would produce around 2.3 million t of the battery raw material over the expected 40 years of mine life. Construction was set to start this year.

However, the project has drawn strong opposition from the public and environmental groups, who fear that lithium mining will pollute one of the country’s largest agricultural regions. The government initially supported Rio Tinto, but with elections coming up in April, it now seems to be listening to protesters.

Also last week, Rio Tinto confirmed delays in the licencing process, with production start-up expected in 2027, instead of 2026.

Some believe Rio Tinto will still be able to resume negotiations after the elections, potentially agreeing to new commercial terms.

Up until mid-2021, Rio Tinto had carried out 12 environmental studies and over 23,000 analyses of air and water for the Jadar project. Its development plans include an underground mine, a beneficiation processing plant and associated infrastructure and equipment. Electric haul trucks would also be used to reduce the project’s carbon footprint.