Cyclists mount lithium mining protest as government attempts to calm fears

As secretary of state for energy João Galamba has done his best to calm the fears of populations facing the prospect of lithium mining, a group of cyclists is preparing to take to the inland roads of Portugal to “alert the country to the destruction exploration implies”.

Bank worker João Cruz told reporters: “Development cannot be done at any cost”.

He and nine other ‘BTT’ (all-terrain) companions will be setting off from Viana do Castelo this weekend on a tortuous route via various “out of the way interior villages close to the frontier” .

The 3,900 km trip will end in Sagres in the Algarve on June 18. Along the way, the plan is for the group to stop at various points to unfurl their “No to lithium mining in Portugal” banner.

Said Cruz, beyond trying to raise awareness of “decisions made in government offices”, the group means to show concrete examples of the consequences of lithium mining, and its use.

One of the overriding issues is “related to what happens to lithium batteries used in electric cars once they’ve reached the end of their lives”.

“I am against electric cars because they are not the alternative”, he told Lusa. “The electric car is less polluting than a fuel-powered vehicle but it leaves a much larger swathe of destruction.

“We have to understand as a society that if we are against lithium mining in Portugal, we cannot be in favour of electric cars. It’s just not sensible”, he said, adding that research into lithium mining is going ahead “without any kind of environmental impact studies”.

Speaking in Braga last week (at the Battery 2030 summit click here), energy secretary João Galamba said it was “perfectly normal” for people to be worried about the prospect of lithium mining. But it’s not going to change the government’s plans, which will see licences awarded as of this month.

Galamba explained: “what we have to do is transmit information and create necessary measures to minimise risks”.

Thus the government has “given dimension to environmental control, obliging companies to proceed annually with recovery of zones where mining takes place.

“We will ensure continuous recovery”, he told the summit, “so that by the end of the first year of work environmental and landscape recuperation is already underway”.

Galamba added that entities like APA, the Portuguese environment agency, and ICNF, the institute of nature conservation and forestries, would be involved in every process preceding the approval of works.

Lithium is a mineral that has “a central role” in the agenda for decarbonising the economy, he told his audience, and Portugal “has a unique advantage in Europe for having this resource in abundance”.

Continuing the government mantra that the country is looking beyond the simple process of mining lithium, he said the mineral essentially spells Portugal’s future.

“We want to make the country a leader in this strategy because we have something other countries don’t possess: the resource, and this gives us a very big advantage.

“Because we have the resource, we want to attract everything that goes with it, which is the most important part – and we have unmatched conditions in Europe to do this”.

[email protected]