|An area at the Tan Rai bauxite mining and smelting project in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.|
The Vietnamese government on Thursday will conduct a comprehensive review of the countryâs first bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands amid concern over their environmental impact, a local newspaper reported.
Nguyen Van Thuan, head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmentâs Geological and Mineral Department said the one-week inspection will focus on mining activities and their impact on the local environment, a Tuoi Tre report said Monday.
The report said further that inspectors will work with Vietnam Coal and Mining Corporation (Vinacomin), the main investor in Nhan Co and Tan Rai bauxite mining and smelting projects in Dak Nong and Lam Dong provinces, to review estimates of bauxite reserves in these areas.
Provincial authorities and Vinacomin are expected to suggest more regulations on environmental management to the inspection team.
The review is part of nationwide inspections of mineral exploitation recently ordered by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Inspectors will also study the management of these projects by local authorities.
Dung had also instructed the Ministry of Industry and Trade to review two projects – mining bauxite and processing aluminum – in the Central Highlands, taking into account the influence of the global economic downturn. The ministry was asked to evaluate the projectsâ environmental impact and suggest possible modifications.
The two projects, authorized by the government in November 2007, have provoked concern among local experts, including a former Vinacomin official.
Nguyen Van Ban, former head of the corporationâs aluminum project management, said the projects should have been implemented under the Engineering Procurement Construction Management (EPCM) format rather than Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) to reduce risk, Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper reported.
The investor should closely monitor the equipment used as well as the bidderâs qualifications and experience for each package, Ban told the paper.
He said further that concerned authorities should take trial steps before mining on a massive scale because such exploitation could run into water supply and transportation problems. Mining on a large scale is estimated to consume 350 million cubic meters of water.
Ban also criticized the use of all equipment from China, adding that 30 percent of them could be supplied by local manufacturers, which would reduce prices by between 60 and 70 percent.
Different technologies had to be applied for each type of bauxite ore and it can be said that the use of American Bayer technology offered by the winning Chinese bidder, China Aluminum International Engineering Co. (Chalieco), was fraught with high risk, he added.
âThe main bauxite ore in Vietnam is from gibbsite mineral while the one in China is diaspore,â he said. âThe minerals are different and the Chinese bidder is inexperienced in processing the ore in Vietnam.â
Earlier, Professor Pham Duy Hien, former chief of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission, also criticized the cost-effectiveness of the project, saying the project should use domestic technology to reduce costs, according to Saigon Tiep Thi.
Many experts said Vinacominâs bauxite mining projects would make a loss besides damaging the environment and undermining national security. This loss would be from low quality ore, lack of electricity and water supply and a disadvantageous location far away from sea ports.
However, Hien said it was the dependence on technology from other countries that would push up production costs.
âWe cannot compete with other global bauxite miners without developing and using our own technology,â he said.
âIn its official reports and recent conferences, Vinacomin has failed to address the issue [using domestic technology] while referring only to investment from the state budget to bid for several mining projects.â
Hien said he believes Vietnam has the ability to develop aluminum processing technology. âThe only shortages are determination and appropriate policies,â he added.
He also said the development of domestic technology would allow enough time for concerned authorities to thoroughly estimate and reduce environmental damage caused by mining activities.