Vietnamese scientists and actvists have called on the government to cancel a massive bauxite mining plan in the country’s Central Highlands for environmental reasons, scientists confirmed Friday. The scientists said the calls came at a seminar organised by Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, its Federation of Technical and Science Associations, and the state-owned Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin).
At the seminar in Hanoi on Thursday, many of the over 50 scientists in attendance said that Vinacomin’s plans for bauxite mining and processing projects covering over 1,800 square kilometres in the mountainous Central Highlands will cause irreversible environmental damage.
“The government should rethink the way it is implementing the technology,” said Professor Pham Duy Hien, a former head of Vietnam’s National Atomic Energy Academy. “If they do it the way Vinacomin has suggested, it will cause a major disaster for us later on.”
Government officials said the mining of bauxite ore, that is used to produce aluminum, was integral to the economic guidelines Vietnam’s Communist Party had laid out in its 2006 five-year plan.
“This project will bring significant benefits to the country as aluminum becomes more popular as a material for construction and airplane and car production,” said Vinacomin chair Doan Van Kien.
Vinacomin’s plan envisions exploitation of 5.4 billion tonnes of bauxite ore in six projects in the region until 2015.
Bauxite is generally mined in vast open pits. For each tonne of aluminum produced, approximately five tonnes of caustic slag are created, which can degrade the environment without proper storage and revegetation.
The first two bauxite processing plants, already under construction, have been contracted to the Chinese mining company Chalco. The involvement of several thousand Chinese workers has led to nationalist opposition by some Vietnamese bloggers, who have spread rumours that the projects may lead to Chinese control over Vietnamese territory.
At the end of the conference, deputy prime minister Hoang Trung Hai said Vietnam would adapt the mining plan for ecological sensitivity, but scepticism remains.
“I do not think the government will be willing to stop these projects,” said historian and National Assembly member Duong Truong Quoc, who said he found the government’s presentation “unconvincing.”
Vietnam’s bauxite reserves are among the world’s largest, with an estimated 8 billion tonnes, concentrated in the country’s Central Highlands region.