Indonesia says battery-grade nickel project drops deep-sea waste plan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian nickel smelting project being built by China’s Tsingshan Group and partner companies to produce battery-grade chemicals has withdrawn a request to dispose of waste in the ocean, a government official said on Friday.

PT Hua Pioneer Indonesia, the company that requested the deep-sea tailing approval on behalf of the project had cancelled its request, Nani Hendiarti, an official at the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment, told Reuters.

“Their main consideration was the complexity of the impact of sea tailing,” said Nani, who is deputy of Environment and Forestry Coordination at the ministry. “They are now seeking other technological options.”

A representative at PT Hua Pioneer Indonesia did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials at the industrial park in Morawali on Sulawesi island where the project is being built declined to comment.

Proponents say deep sea tailings placement, which pipes unwanted pulverised rock into the sea, is cheaper and less harmful, especially on tropical islands where earthquakes or heavy rain limit storage on land, near deep sea trenches, but critics say the impact is poorly understood.

A senior government official said in May that authorities were considering two companies’ requests to dispose of mining waste into the ocean, one for Morowali and the other in Obi island.

Tapping Indonesia’s rich supplies of nickel ore, China’s Tsingshan Group, GEM Co Ltd and partners are building a high-pressure acid leaching plant to extract chemicals to be used in batteries for electric vehicles (EVs).

Indonesia was a major nickel ore exporter until the government stopped unprocessed nickel exports in January to support domestic smelters.

The government is keen to produce stainless steel and battery-grade chemicals from nickel laterite, and eventually manufacture batteries and EVs.

While EVs are expected to help reduce global carbon emission, environmentalists are concerned that production of EV parts may damage the environment.

Editing by Ed Davies