Dak Nong Province’s environment is under threat from plans to mine bauxite, experts have warned.
Vietnam’s reserves of bauxite, used to produce aluminum, are estimated at about 5.3 billion tons, 64.6 % of which is located in the central highlands province of Dak Nong.
The government last year authorized the Vietnam Coal and Mineral Industry Group (TKV) to carry out a major mining and processing project in Dak Nong and other Central Highlands provinces.
But at a two-day conference, which opened Wednesday in Dak Nong Province, TKV received stern warnings from experts who fear the project will take a heavy toll on the environment in the region.
They also warned it would take years for the province to rehabilitate mined areas.
Dr. Nguyen Thanh Son, Director of the Red River Energy Company subsidiary of TKV, said he doubted the project was feasible, especially with low domestic demand for aluminum and the current power shortage.
Son called for the establishment of a national committee on sustainable development for the Central Highlands region as well as thorough studies on cultural, environmental, and socio-economic effects of bauxite exploitation.
He called for bauxite mining to be halted until comprehensive environmental impact studies could be completed.
Other delegates at the meeting also voiced their concern over the environment damage bauxite mining would cause.
Bauxite mining and aluminum processing would discharge dozens of millions of tons of toxic mud per year which was likely to contaminate the environment and the water sources of not only the Central Highlands but also the southern regions, the conference heard.
The exploitation would also take a major amount of electricity in a country struggling with chronic power shortages.
Vietnam’s power demand is expected to grow by 16 % a year until 2015. The entire power network in Vietnam has an output of 10,000-11,000 megawatts, about 1,500-2,000 megawatts below demand during peak hours.
A water shortage was also likely to occur, severely impacting Central Highlands agricultural producers, said Professor Dao Cong Tien, former president of the Ho Chi Minh City’s Economics University.
Delegates at the conference said they were concerned at the possible disappearance of traditional cultural spaces of indigenous people in bauxite mining areas.
Dr. Tuyet Nhung Buon Krong from the Central Highland University cited a recent example in which the four-hectare Ca Tre Lake, mentioned in many folk stories and the site of traditional fishing festivals of the M’nong people, had been filled in to make way for the Nhan Co processing plant.
The land acquisition and relocation of local residents should be carried out carefully, with residents’ wishes taken into account, delegates said. Delegates at the conference said environment protection must be the priority in all decisions related to bauxite mining.