Project Jadar: an overview from then to now.

22 villages / 2030 hectares of farmland / 200 hectares of forest / 350 families forced to relocate / 19,000 people directly affected / 1000 tons of sulfuric acid per day / 1.3 tons of toxic tailings per year / 130 protected species and plants

The JADAR valley is a unique ecosystem of nature and humanity. Surrounded by mountains and two rivers, this valley is home to generations of famers, who produce over 70 million Euros of agricultural yield every year. The valley is self-sustaining and feeds not just its inhabitants, but surrounding areas as well. Groundwaters run so deep that even during drought, crops yield food. There are schools, churches and shops, a thriving cultural landscape and thousands who want to remain and maintain what has been handed to them for over generations from their predecessors.

In May 2021 the European Commission confirmed that the EIA directive and SEA directive will be applicable for assessing the environmental impact of the Jadar proposal and  that the EIA must cover the entire proposal so as to assess its cumulative impact. In early July 2021 Serbia’s ministry for the environment released RT’s scoping presentation report.[1] It was incomplete and contained only the mine complex without the processing plant and tailings landfill. Assessment proper was supposed to commence early december 2021 and then construction in 2022, but enormous public opposition, including a petition with over 290 thousand signatures (5% of Serbia’s population), a book released by the Academy of Sciences[2] and two weeks of civil disobedience with over 100 thousand on the streets, led the government to annulling the Special Purpose Spatial Plan – Jadar, the legal premise for the project[3]. They did this in view of quieting the subject before elections, after which President Vucic announced that the cancellation had been a mistake. The company then stated they hope to “be able to discuss all of the options with the government of Serbia now the elections are out of the way.” Mars sa Drine responded stating that “Serbia’s effort to transition into a politically stable country will be jeopardized if companies like Rio Tinto believe they can undermine democracy and try to re-introduce nepotism. The government made its choice: it listened to the people.”[4] This new but not unexpected reality means that our movement continues until we have achieved complete legal protection of Jadar and sent Rio Tinto and any other potential investors packing.

Rio Tinto’s lithium and borate proposal in the Jadar Valley covers 22 villages. The area is a rich agricultural area consisting of farming, bee-keeping, tourism etc. Agricultural yields alone are estimated at over 70 million Euros per year.[6] The spatial plan for the mine embraces an area of 2,031 hectares for a special purpose complex, accompanying corridors and traffic infrastructure systems.​ Nearly 200 hectares of forests would need to be cut: 80 hectares for roads/ railways and 164 hectares for 35% of projected tailings. Rio Tinto needs to purchase 600 hectares of land from 335 landowners to continue development. The mine is envisaged on the bank of the Korenita river, a tributary to the Jadar river, with underground mining to be performed underneath both riverbeds. Close by, a flotation facility would use 1000 tons of concentrated sulfuric acid per day (to be diluted by 5000-6000 tons of water). The proposal is designed to operate 24/7 over a mine life of 60 years.

Tailings are to be located a few hundred meters from the mine, close to the rivers and will amount to 1.3 million tons per year (90 million tons during mine life). The Jadar and Korenita are prone to flooding every year, with the most recent large floods being in 2020. There is a high risk that tailings will end up in these two rivers, then flow into the Drina, Sava, and the Danube. The Drina flows into Bosnia & Herzegovina and the Danube flows into Romania. It is expected that changes in temperature will imply a higher risk of floods in extremely rainy periods, and of droughts in extremely warm periods of the year[7].
The proposal is low-cost and expandable,[8] which taken together is the worst combination for a mine as most accidents occur with badly planned (low cost) mine extensions that keep adding to the tailings and waste deposits planned for the initial or first phase of the mine.

Rio Tinto’s jadarite (lithium and borate) mine proposal in Serbia[5]

The proposal is situated in an area of exceptional archaeological importance and Rio Tinto is currently considering an alternative to the current tailings site which would be situated in close proximity to Paulje, an archaeological site roughly 3500 years old. The Spatial Plan mentions some of them but omits several extremely important archeological and cultural sites and natural monuments (sections 5.1.1 and 6.2).[9]

So far lithium mining has not existed anywhere in the world on fertile soil. A proposal in the Nevada desert was recently stopped due to the detrimental effect of the technology involved on sage, grouse and other wildlife and is now in question due to the ancestral bones of native Americans. Yet in Serbia the government seems determined to permit a vast and murky proposal that will destroy inhabited and thriving villages built on fertile land that has been farmed for generations, with exceptional heritage values and protected species of animals.

There exists considerable local, national and transnational[10] opposition to the mine proposal. Ne Damo Jadar (NDJ) is an association of 335 property owners, based in the Jadar Valley, Western Serbia opposed to Rio Tinto’s proposed lithium and borate mine and processing center based on social, environmental, economic and heritage grounds. Marš sa Drine (MSD) is a network comprising 20 organizations and independent experts throughout Serbia and its diaspora.A petition launched by MSD has gathered over 290,000 signatures (5% of the Serbian population) against the proposed mine. 

Irregularities are already identified from Rio Tinto’s project presentation and scoping report:[11] They state that it “refers to only one part of the entire project, more precisely to the underground exploitation project.” Provisions of the EIA Directive cannot be avoided by splitting projects into smaller projects, and failing to take into account their cumulative environmental impact.[12]/[13] The PPR does not include ore processing and final products, as well chemical and other ore treatment, or planned solutions for treatment and disposal of waste. Hence there is no mention or description of the technology used for the processing of lithium ore, how the mining waste will be treated, what its character is, its composition, the location of the landfill, or any other information related to it. There is no description on the significance and quality of natural resources in existence or on protected natural areas.[14]

An open letter from the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts to prime minister Ana Brnabićoutlines experts’ concerns of environmental and scientific irregularities in the project.  Their peer approved publication “Project Jadar – what is known” contains numerous studies, analysis and opinions on the catastrophic potentialities of this project. In September 2021 Banktrack also listed the Jadar proposal on their dodgy deal database, where letters to banks and investors of Rio Tinto and to their shareholders are made public.

It is no exaggeration to state that Serbia’s government has no control over the implementation of its own environmental protection laws, let alone of its obligations towards the environmental acquis. Premier Ana Brnabic endorsed Rio Tinto’s proposal of ‘strategic importance’ in 2021 without even the existence of an EIA or feasibility report.

The project has been fraught with irregularities at the highest political level.  In 2017 the Serbian government and Rio Tinto signed a memorandum of understanding[15] (MOU) which was withheld from the public for many years (despite Rio Tinto’s claims for CSR, transparency etc.)[16] In spring 2021 the government approved the proposal’s local spatial plan despite being incomplete. It was adopted without a feasibility study at its base (which is a legal requirement) and without a long-term exploitation program, required for projects longer than 10 years. This local spatial plan was annulled after local opposition gathered 5 thousands signatures in 7 days. However the annulment did not legally alter the company’s permits as they were based on the federal Special Purpose Spatial Plan, which was only canceled on January 20 2022 after public pressure, and also came with controversies of its own.

The EU Commission has been a strong supporter of the project’s development; going so far as to endorse it despite its early stages. In October 2021, Mars sa Drine exposed correspondence between EU Commission department DG Grow and Rio Tinto which showed the mine was planned to receive approval in May 2022, after Serbia’s general elections, and that it had the support of Serbian President, Aleksandrar Vucic[17]. This generated significant backlash against Vucic because he had actually announced that the decision over Jadar would belong to the people via a national referendum. To amplify this betrayal, Mars sa Drine and experts met with EU ambassador, Emanuele Giaufret, where it was made clear that further political pressure on this project would have adverse effects for the relationship between the Serbian people and the European Union.

Reacting to huge on- and off-line public outcry at a time of imminent general elections, Serbia’s prime minister announced on 20 January 2022 that Rio Tinto’s entire mine proposal had been canceled with the annulment of the Special Purpose Spatial Plan, which is the legal basis for all of the project’s permits.[18]

A correct legal procedure following the cancellation of the SPSP would have been for all relevant authorities to repeal without delay all individual acts they adopted with connection to this spatial plan. That did not happen, and requests for access to this information yielded no results. However, it was widely reported  that Rio Tinto was continuing to purchase properties within the project footprint, as well as trespassing on local activists’ land.

Then, a mere week ahead of 3 April, a whistleblower shared evidence confirming that Rio Tinto was currently working with Thyssen Schachtbau on delivering a VSM boring machine to the Jadar Valley in April.  A press conference released material of the leak which made front page news and was covered by several news portals. The government reacted instantly stating that “the Administrative Commission annulled the decision of the Ministry of Environmental Protection on the scope and content of the EIA.”[19] The announcement was not as significant as its timing because this should have happened months before, and the leak indicates that the project will either proceed or go toward arbitration.

To that end, civil society groups initiated a “citizens initiative” which is a process that grants its authors the right to present a bill to parliament if they manage to gather 30,000 notarized signatures. In this instance, 36,000 signatures were gathered in 20 days. The request is for a legal ban on the extraction of lithium and borates in Serbia. It will be presented as soon as parliament reconvenes after the summer recess.

Organisation Earth Thrive submitted a complaint against the Jadar Project to the Bureau of the Bern Convention, of which Serbia is a full signatory, in April of 2022.[20] The complaint outlines serious harm that could be caused to the numerous and highly protected species and wild habitats in the region, and carries within it potential evidence of breaches of international law and ethical corporate social responsibility. “’In consideration of the ecological value of the area at the center of the complaint,” The Bureau “expressed its concern on the considerable negative effects on the species and habitats that the construction of a lithium mine would have.” The Bureau has put the Complaint on ‘stand-by’ ready to be opened should the project be officially resurrected, which, as we have come to understand is exactly what the government and the company are trying to orchestrate.

In May 2022, through a Freedom of information request response, it was revealed that the exploitation license for the Jadar mining complex, which was supposed to have been cancelled with the Spatial Plan, was still in process[21]. This was further confirmed by the Ministry for Mining in October[22]. An open letter to Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, from MSD and local landowners demanding clarification for these legal irregularities, still remains unanswered.

At around the same time Rio Tinto was having behind closed doors meetings with the European Commission, sharing new strategies for their officially cancelled project. EU documents revealed by MSD show that Rio Tinto was forming relationships with locals and academic institutions, and strategising to get involved in agriculture[23].

In October, local businesses started receiving email requests for quotes regarding work on a waste water treatment for Project Jadar from US company Bechtel[24]. In response to public complaints about this and job offers for HR, senior advisor for brand and digital, a communication analyst and a travel administrator, as well as further property purchases, Rio Tinto put out a statement on their website[25] claiming they have “outstanding legal commitments including the completion of an internal feasibility study. They claim to “respect the government’s decision to revoke all permits and licenses for the project” despite evidence of the licensing procedure still being in process.

Representatives of nine organizations from Serbia, Portugal, Germany, Chile and Spain signed the Jadar Declaration on international solidarity against lithium exploitation and for environmental protection. The dominant narrative around lithium normalizes “sacrifice zones,” and the Jadar declaration is a basis for mutual support, cooperation, exchanging information and help against the expansion of lithium ore mining and other kinds of extractivism brought by an unjust energy transition. The greenwashing of the energy transition saw further exposure in media coverage about the potential sacrifice of The Balkans for Europe’s Energy transition with the latter’s attempt to move away from reliance on China

Given the huge public awareness campaign in Serbia, other regions in danger from lithium exploration have themselves been active. In December the people of Valjevo won a victory against mining company Euro Lithium, after the Ministry for mining refused to renew the company’s exploration license, while local citizens of the villages of the Levac area have been camping for over four months in order to protect an acre of land from being test drilled.

As prime minister Ana Brnabic proclaims that this is a historic opportunity for Serbia, negating her previous statements that she has put a “full stop” to the Jadar Project, we continue to prepare for further actions in the goal of protecting and preserving the Jadar Valley.

“There are things that money can’t buy. Our land, our roots, our home, our heritage are not for sale, nor are our souls. We inherited everything we have, and it is our obligation to pass it on to our grandchildren. You do not have our permission to build a mine in the Jadar Valley! We will defend this country at the cost of our lives.” Zlatko Kokanović, vice president of the association “Ne Damo Jadar”.

We just want our normal little lives back. We want to do our agriculture and our jobs. We do not want to think about the mine, nor about pollution. Life is in full force here. Our children, these fields, houses, – this took generations to build. One company cannot erase all this or erase the traditions of our peopleMarijana Trbović Petković, “Ne Damo Jadar” Gornje Nedeljice.

Given that the insatiable drive for profit is what got us into the climate crisis in the first place, is its solution a cheap mine in the hands of a world polluter, where we replace one form of extraction with another? If we let Rio Tinto come to Europe, we are incentivising environmental degradation at the expense of looking at real solutions. We are allowing corporations who are responsible for the climate crisis to act as if they are its solution. Bojana Novakovic – co-ordinator Mars Sa Drine campaign 

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Download the information sheet here. Public use of this document is permitted with the credit: “Author: Marš Sa Drine, Serbia.”







[7] (Observed climate changes and projections of the future climate based on different scenarios of future emissions, Vladimir Đurđević, Ana Vuković and Mirjam Vujadinović Mandić, United Nations Development Program, 2018).


[9] The Law on Mining and Geological Research explicitly prohibits a company, ie other legal entity and entrepreneur, which has due but unsettled obligations on the basis of, among other things, unfulfilled obligations related to the rehabilitation and protection of the environment and cultural goods and goods that enjoy prior protection, to be the bearer of exploration and exploitation. Article 31, paragraph 3 of the Law on Nature Protection prohibits all actions and activities that endanger the features and values ​​of the natural monument, which will arise from the implementation of the “Jadar” project.

[10] Environmental organizations in Romania are extremely worried about potential transboundary impact of an accidental spill into the Drina river. They have requested their environment minister trigger the ESPOO Convention transboundary impact assessment.


[12] (Republic of Serbia, Ministry of Environmental Protection, decision number 353-02-00984 / 2020-03, dated 5.6.2020)


[14] There is no mention of:

  1. “Cer” (classification code RS024IBA), total area of ​​about 19,000 hectares.
  2. “Cer” – part of the IBA program and verified within BLI (BirdLife International), which has 130 registered bird species.

National protected species of birds and fish, including the MLADICA (saplings), which sees its highest concentration in the Drina and was declared a protected species – Declared by the Rulebook on the Proclamation of Protected and Strictly Protected Wild Species of Plants, Animals and Fungi (“Official Gazette of RS”, No. 5/10 and 47/11) and on the IUCN global list of endangered species it is classified as endangered (EN B2ab (ii, iii)).














Internal Feasibility study must be completed AUGUST 10TH, 2022 This statement is a response to the SEOS claim that Rio Tinto and Bechtel are progressing the development of the Jadar Project. Rio Tinto reiterates that it respects the Government decision earlier this year to revoke all permits and licenses for the project. We are continuing to conduct our business activities in accordance with Serbian laws. All of our activities are a continuation of previous commitments. This includes completing the internal Feasibility Study, which requires collecting and assessing design data from relevant vendors in order to meet applicable technical, environmental and sustainability standards. The Feasibility Study is being completed in partnership with Bechtel, who have provided Project Management Contractor (PMC) support to the project since 2018.

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