August 11, 2003 - In a recent visit to Patagonia, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos made a strong public statement against Canadian Noranda Inc.’s proposed Alumysa aluminum smelter in the fragile region of Chacabuco Bay in the Aisén region of Patagonia, Chile.
“We are very proud of international agreements, but if we don’t respect the environment in the future, the most developed countries will demand green barriers, not tariff barriers, which is to say that a product would not enter (a country) because it is not produced in accordance with the environmental laws,” said President Lagos.
Noranda wants to build six dams, three hydroelectric plants, a mega-port, roads, and power lines in the region. The aluminum smelter will produce approximately 440,000 tonnes of aluminum ingots per year. But it will also pump 1.5 million tones of gaseous and solid wastes into this fragile ecosystem every year. The dams will flood 9,600 hectares and damage another 600 hectares of land.
President Lagos is among a growing number of Chilean politicians opposed to the project. Noranda has also met strong opposition among environment, labour and rights groups in Chile and abroad. They oppose the project not only because of the destruction it will bring to one of the last unspoiled regions on the planet, but because it conflicts with the region’s development strategy. This is rooted in eco-tourism, sustainable farming, and fishing. A large part of Chile’s billion dollar salmon industry is also based in the region. Raw materials for the smelter would be imported and products exported, with Chile thus gaining little from the project.
“We congratulate the President for speaking out against this project”, said Mel Quevillon of MiningWatch Canada. “Noranda should realize that it is not just environmentalists who are opposed to this project, but a significant part of the government. It must seriously reconsider going ahead with the project”.
President Lagos has suggested that the project be moved to another location in Chile. But Noranda has stated that Aisén is the only viable project location for its smelter, because the region’s vast water reserves would keep the operating costs of the smelter to a minimum. Aluminum smelting is an energy-intensive process and Noranda hopes to generate electricity by damming local waters.
Noranda has been applying for the appropriate environmental permits for its $2.75 billion project since August 2001. Chilean environmental authorities made 1,400 criticisms of the company’s initial Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Noranda is expected to submit a second addendum to its EIS this November 2003 at which time the government of Chile will decide whether or not to grant the permits.
For further information, contact
MiningWatch Canada, 613-569-3439 or
Fraser Reilly-King, NGO Working Group on EDC, 613-789-4447