Protesters attack Vale’s New Caledonia nickel mine after effluent spill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 9:38pm

Dozens of protesters have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to vehicles, equipment and buildings at a nickel mining site in New Caledonia, as anger boiled over at a chemical spill into a local river.

The US$6 billion Vale plant at Goro in southern New Caledonia was closed this month after 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent spilled, killing about 1,000 fish and sparking protests at the mine site.

The Vale plant had been expected to produce about 40,000 tonnes of nickel this year, out of global supply of around two million tonnes. But it has been beset by problems, including spills and protests.

Tensions between the local population and Brazil-based Vale escalated over the weekend, with young protesters frustrated at the latest spill and a lack of response from indigenous Kanak chiefs, according to local media reports. Television footage showed images of burned mining vehicles and equipment.

"We had burned vehicles, one administration building was damaged, but no damage to the plant itself," Vale spokesman Corey McPhee said.

Peter Poppinga, an executive director at Vale, told Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes newspaper that damage to the mining site was estimated at at least US$20 million to US$30 million, including the destruction of perhaps one third of the truck fleet.

"If there is no activity for several months, we will shut the plant, but that's not the case. The closing of the plant is not on the table," Poppinga was quoted as saying.

The French Pacific territory's southern provincial government ordered an immediate halt to operations and started legal proceedings under its environmental code after the spill.

The local government, which had a leadership change last week, has yet to say when Vale can resume production.