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19 Oct 2022

ERWIDA MAULIA, Nikkei (Japan)

Indonesia: Nickel production for EV battery industry in Morowali Industrial Park generates environmental and health concerns

"Dirty metals for clean cars: Indonesian nickel could be key to EV battery industry" 19 October 2022

A group of fishermen and their wives looked forlorn on the porch of their stilt houses, perched on the sandy coast of Indonesia's remote Bahodopi district.

Their homes, along with the few dozen others that make up the fishing hamlet, stood against a backdrop of towering cranes and billowing white smoke from the chimneys of Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP), a sprawling nickel processing complex in Central Sulawesi province that hosts an array of Chinese companies and their partners, led by stainless steel giant Tsingshan Holding Group.

Sirajudin, a fisherman in his 30s, said he did not go to sea that day because he had caught a cold. Residents of the fishing village often complain of respiratory problems, blaming soot from the coal unloaded from barges to supply IMIP's power plants. The dust is carried by the wind into local residents' houses. [...]

The fishermen also increasingly struggle to make a living. They recall how they used to be spoiled for choice, easily catching mackerel, tuna, whitefish, even lobster and squid, just by spreading nets behind their houses or taking boats around the neighborhood. [...]

Aside from the coal soot and hot water in the fishing hamlet, other environmental problems are clearly visible in Bahodopi. On the hills overlooking the district, nickel mining activities are killing forests. Brick-red tailings from the mines wash into rivers and streams running through villages, turning previously clear waters reddish brown -- and often toxic, according to experts.

Polluted water has damaged the rice fields that used to flourish in the area, and has also made its way to the sea. The coastline, once dotted with picturesque fishing hamlets, has been abandoned. Sandy beaches are discolored with a kaleidoscope of ore pigments -- and dotted with jetties where barges wait to deliver nickel ore. [...]

Tsingshan, IMIP and Vale have not responded to Nikkei's requests for comment. [...]

An executive with Indonesian miner Merdeka Copper Gold in August said his company is jointly developing the Konawe Industrial Park with Tsingshan, and has plans to build a hydropower plant and a "very large-scale solar" plant.

IWIP, meanwhile, is planning to develop a 1-GW solar plant. An IWIP spokesperson said all of the park’s 2.26 gigawatts of power capacity is currently supplied by coal-fired plants, and it is planning to expand the capacity to over 4 gigawatts using mostly renewable sources. She added the park management has been working on improving waste management and monitoring. 

LG Energy Solution in an email statement said it aims to "ensure the sustainability of the supply chain" at its domestic and overseas operations, as well as that of its suppliers. "We specifically focus on preventing the risks associated with labor, health and safety, environment, and business ethics," they said.

CATL similarly says it will "adhere to sustainable development strategy," and "strictly implement Indonesia's environmental protection policies and regulations." The battery giant added treatment and disposal of solid waste will be based on principles such as reduce and recycle, including for use as building materials substitutes. [...]