According to a report on Reuters on Friday morning (Sydney time), the Serbian government has thrown an enormous roadblock in the path of Rio Tinto’s lithium ambitions by revoking all licenses related to the company’s exploration for lithium in the country.
Reuters reported Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters the government’s decision came after requests from various environmental organisations to halt the company’s Jadar lithium borate project in the country.
The news will hit the Rio share price on the ASX on Friday. Rio shares closed at $113.41, up 3.1% on Thursday but they fell 1.3% in London before the news report from Reuters.
Earlier this week said that due to license delays, and opposition from local groups first saleable production from the Jadar project is now expected no earlier than 2027, a year later than previously planned.
In late July, Rio Tinto said it was committing $US2.4 billion to the Jadar project, which it expected would position it as the largest source of lithium supply in Europe for at least the next 15 years.
Rio Tuesday admitted that it faces delays in key approvals and protests over environmental concerns for the project
“(A)s a result of delays in the approval of the Exploitation Field Licence (EFL), which is a prerequisite to publish the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and commence the consultation process, we are revising development timelines. Based on current estimates and subject to receiving all relevant approvals, permits and licences, first saleable production is expected to be no earlier than 2027 (previously 2026),” Rio said on Tuesday.
The mine is facing opposition from environmental activists and local communities over concerns of environmental damage, forcing the local municipality last year to scrap a plan to allocate land for the facility.
“We fully understand the concerns amongst some Serbian stakeholders about environmental impacts and we will continue to engage to demonstrate the project has developed mitigation solutions in the project plan,” Rio said in a statement.
In December, Rio moved to extend its lithium involvement with a binding agreement to acquire the Rincon lithium project in Argentina from Rincon Mining for $825 million.
“Rincon is one of the largest undeveloped lithium brine projects in the world, located in the heart of the lithium triangle in Salta Province.”
Serbia will decide whether Rio can proceed with developing the mine after a general election in April, its prime minister told Reuters earlier this month.
The decision to reportedly revoke the licences held by Rio looks like part of the election campaign.