Protests against mining of lithium by the Lichu River in Kangding, Tibet

Beginning from 2005, in Minyak Lhagang the lithium-mining operations by Ronda Lithium Co, have caused polluting and killing fish in the Lung River, affecting water and livelihood of Tibetans. Many local protests have led to halt the plant temporary.


Description

In the last years beginning from 2005, the lithium-mining operations, in the area of the Kargyaka (Ch: Gajika) site near Balang village in Minyak Lhagang (Ch: Tagong), Dartsedo County ( Ch: Kangding) in Karze Prefecture, has caused  many Tibetan villagers protesters against the company Ronda Lithium Co Ltd, for polluting and killing fish in the Lung River, a tributary of Nakchu/Yalong river, the biggest river that merges with Yangtse downstream. [4] [5].

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Basic Data
NameProtests against mining of lithium by the Lichu River in Kangding, Tibet
CountryChina
ProvinceKarze Prefecture, Sichuan province
SiteLichu River in Minyak Lhagang, Dartsedo County (also called Kangding, Tachienlua and Dardo)
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral processing
Mineral ore exploration
Specific CommoditiesLithium
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsChina's growing demand for minerals put the Tibetan Plateau at the forefront of its policies to profit from potential mining sites. Lithium based batteries have higher capacity to store power, are lighter in weight and cheaper than nickel metal hydride, form of batteries earlier used in tablets, smartphones and in electric and hybrid cars. In front of subsidy of electric vehicles and steadily growing lithium price will meet the demand of China's huge appetite for lithium from other countries in the future, for the Chinese government, the only solution is to mine the Tibetan Plateau. In fact Tibet has more than 90% of China's lithium reserves. This will in turn cut the cost and reduce China's dependence on other countries for lithium and will aid China's continued influence on lithium price in the global market. [1]

China moves towards Green Development as stated in China's 13th Five Year Plan, a sustainable development with low carbon output and its claim of heading towards energy revolution will see promotion of "green cars". Huge demand for electric and hybrid cars across the world has tripled the price of lithium, "the white petroleum" over the years. Chinese Government's huge subsidy of electric and hybrid cars up to 60,000 Yuan per car has accelerated the demand for electric vehicles in China and is the leading consumer of electric cars and lithium in the world. Most of the brine lithium China has discovered in Amdo (Qinghai Province) pro-vides low cost transportation to lithium manufacturing companies because of their relatively closer proximity to Beijing. However, the rise in demand for lithium will see more mining projects initiated on the Tibetan Plateau. Unfortunately, contrasting the “green way”, extraction and processing of lithium does not involve clean and green technology but has significant environmental impact, resulting in water and soil pollution. [1]

By 1990 the Jiajika lithium, niobium, tantalum and beryllium deposit was listed as China’s largest “superdeposit” but mining did not begin for many reasons. But later, the increase of demand for lithium battery and the attempt to change the Chinese world’s factory, from the east coast to the west, led to mining Tibet. In the past the old technologies permitted just drilling and blasting the hard rock of Nyagchu, or Yajiang as it is known in Chinese, half way between Litang and Dartsedo (Kangding in Chinese) on the 318 Highway from Chengdu to Lhasa. Many parts of China still carry out traditional lithium mining in both brine and hard rock lithium. But at now, the Lithium extraction from the salt lakes of Tibet is a big industry, concentrated in the arid Tsaidam Basin of Amdo, but also attracting Chinese and global investors to far western Tibet as well. Scooping up the salts, by mixing the lithium salts with magnesium salts and toxic solvents to separate them, it’ s easy and cheaper than the extraction of lithium from hard rock, comparatively more expensive. The source of lithium at Minyak Lhagang in Dartsedo is pegmatite, economically most profitable lithium minerals from hard rock. Minyak Lhagang lithium mining site may have the same high concentration of lithium as the adjacent Jiajika lithium mine, which is considered as the China's largest pegmatite type lithium deposit. The latest Qinghai Statistical Yearbook (2014) says that in 2013, 5.7 million tons of lithium were taken from those Tsaidam Basin lakes in Amdo. Scraping lakes beds and dumping salt into trucks are easy. There are new membrane technologies that force different salts, of differing molecular weight through tiny openings, under enormous pressure, mostly the extraction of lithium is done by using highly toxic solvents. [7]

The prospects of a lithium boom have attracted investors worldwide to the lithium deposits of Tibet, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, as part of their backing for a Chinese Chinese automobile manufacturer Build Your Dreams, BYD, hoping to become a successful electric car manufacturer. According to Gabriel Lafitte, author of a major book on mining in Tibet, BYD claims exclusive rights to mine lithium, not from the massive salt pans of the Tsaidam Basin, but the Chabyer Tsaka in arid upper Tibet, a big area where lakes have inlets but no outlets and were, until recent climate change, gradually shrinking, leaving behind their salts. [3]
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date01/01/2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesRonda Lithium Co Ltd from China
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Pastoralists
Tibetan nomads[2]
Forms of MobilizationObjections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
On 13 October 2013, Tibetans from the affected villages gathered at Lhagang township government offices to present a petition calling for an end to the environmental destruction. They brought large quantities of the dead fish with them as evidence, which they displayed outside the office[4]; A number of Tibetans took to social media to vent their frustration and appeal for a solution
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
OtherLandslides[2];

The death of hundreds of fish is caused by the poisoned water from the water leaching site by mining. The optimum pH level of majority of the aquatic animals lies between pH 6.5 to 9. Any further change in the optimum pH causes strain on animal physiology, reduces hatching and survival rate. Aquatic animals are more sensitive towards acids than alkalis. A change in pH with 0.5 towards acid from pure water (pH 7) causes aquatic animals in an abnormal environment and cannot survive when the pH level is lower than 3. Highly concentrated acids in the local river due to leakage of water leaching site may have altered the level of pH to as low as 3 causing death of fish and damage to the entire local river ecosystem. The water leaching site might contain organic wastes (dead plants and animals) since the mining site was closed for a few years, the organic wastes drained into river water are decomposed by aerobic bacteria. Decomposition of the organic wastes is a major function of aerobic bacteria to provide nutrient to aquatic animals and requires oxygen which in turn cause depletion in oxygen level to other aquatic animals. High concentration of nitrates and phosphate if present in the contaminated water can be a factor lowering dissolved oxygen and causing high mortality rate of fish. [1]
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Deaths
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence
Other[4]Tibet Watch
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The plant was closed many time in the last years after protests, in front of the evidence of the mining's responsibility for the river's pollution. However this happened without penalization for the company and until now, without any compensation for damaging river ecosystem to the local Tibetans who are dependent on the river for their daily livelihood[1]. For the last protest in May 2016, although the mining's halt appears likely to be temporary, it is a significant move by the local authorities. [3].
Sources and Materials
Legislations

[8]Law of the People's Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, 1996, Article 85 states: "The party whose rights and interests are damaged by a water pollution accident is entitled to ask the party discharging pollutants to eliminate the damage and make compensation for their loss-es." [1]
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[9]ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT LAW OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, 2003; Article 5 of the EIA states: "The state shall encourage all relevant units, experts and the public to participate in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in proper ways."[1]
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References

Gabriel Lafitte, ‘Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World’, Zed Books, 2013

[4]Tibet Watch, “Environmental Protest on the Tibetan plateau”, January 2015, pp. 14-15
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[7] Rukor-admin, TIBETAN LITHIUM IN YOUR POCKET, November 6, 2015
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Links

[1]Tibet: Environmental and Desk, Tenzin Palden, Lichu River Poisoned : Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, 8 June 2016
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Tibet.net, Lichu River Poisoned – Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, June 6, 2016
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Social Page on Tibet, Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, June 6, 2016, READ MORE AT: http://sunyat.free.fr
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Sitesunyata,Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Ti-bet’s lithium, May 10, 2016
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[3]International Campaign For Tibet, Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Tibet’s lithium, MAY 9, 2016
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[2]The Tibet post, Tibetans protest against Chinese mining in Minyak County, Tibet, 06 May 2016
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[5]Radio Free Asia, Tibetans Protest Restart of Operations by Chinese Mining Company, May 9, 2016
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[6]Yeshi Dorje, Chinese Police Clamp Down on Tibetan Mining Protest, Voice of America, May 06, 2016
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Media Links

[6] Activists Protest Mining Operations in Yeshi Dorje, Chinese Police Clamp Down on Tibetan Mining Protest, Voice of America, May 06, 2016

http://www.voanews.com/content/chinese-police-clamp-down-tibetan-mining-protest/3319093.html
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Other Documents

Social page Tibet https://www.facebook.com/187772390283/photos/a.10150163575635284.414910.187772390283/10156999646525284/?type=3
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Tibet.net, Lichu River Poisoned – Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, June 6, 2016 http://tibet.net/2016/06/lichu-river-poisoned-case-of-minyak-lhagang-lithium-mine-protest/ Dead fishes in the Lichu River, believed to be killed by the Lithium mining site.
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Tibet: Environmental and Desk, Lichu River Poisoned : Case of Minyak Lhagang Lithium Mine Protest, 8 June 2016 http://tibet-edd.blogspot.com.es/ Lithium mine site
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[2]The Tibet post, Tibetans protest against Chinese mining in Minyak County, Tibet, 06 May 2016 http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/tibet/4998-tibetans-protest-against-chinese-mining-in-minyak-county-tibet Tibetans in Minyac County, eastern Tibet protestin againstChines mining operation at a sacred, on May 4 2016. Photo: TPI
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[3]International Campaign For Tibet, Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Tibet’s lithium, MAY 9, 2016 https://www.savetibet.org/temporary-halt-to-mining-after-protest-in-eastern-tibet-the-rush-to-invest-in-tibets-lithium/

Description:A Tibetan woman lies on the road as part of a sit-in protest at the mine in Lhagang.
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[3]International Campaign For Tibet, Temporary halt to mining after protest in eastern Tibet: the rush to invest in Tibet’s lithium, MAY 9, 2016 https://www.savetibet.org/temporary-halt-to-mining-after-protest-in-eastern-tibet-the-rush-to-invest-in-tibets-lithium/

Description: Armed police in riot gear at the protest on May 4.
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[7] Rukor-admin, TIBETAN LITHIUM IN YOUR POCKET, November 6, 2015: http://rukor.org/tibetan-lithium-in-your-pocket/
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Meta Information
ContributorMyriam Bartolucci, EJAtlas internship researcher, [email protected]
Last update14/07/2016
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