World Wide Waste with Gerry McGovern

Pietro Jarre ‘No such thing as sustainable mining’

John Carter
May 9, 2023
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Pietro Jarre ‘No such thing as sustainable mining’

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Pietro Jarre has a doctorate in geotechnical engineering. He’s a specialist in geotechnical and environmental issues on waste rock deposits, mining infrastructures, landfills and brownfields. Since 2015, his focus is on the environmental and social impact of digital technologies. He’s founder of Sloweb association, something I’d highly recommend checking out at Pietro starts our chat by recounting his early years in mining, leading up to the Los Frailes tailings dam disaster.


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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:00] Gerry McGovern: Peter as a doctorate in geotechnical engineering. He's a specialist in geotechnical and environmental issues on waste, rock deposits, mining infrastructures, landfills, and brownfields since 2015. His focus is on the environmental and social impact of digital technologies. He's founder of Slow Web Association, something I'd highly recommend checking

[00:00:37] Gerry McGovern: Peter starts our conversation by recounting his early years in mining, leading up to the lost FRAs tailing stem disaster.

[00:00:48] Pietro Jarre: After my graduation and my PhD in geotechnical engineering, I, I did quite a lot of consulting work, uh, around the world, uh, [00:01:00] for, uh, geotechnical issues. And so, uh, often I was involved with the stability of, uh, tailing dams and, uh, in general.

[00:01:10] Pietro Jarre: Uh, landfills and waste deposits, uh, of rocks for the mining industry. My first, uh, large assignment was with, uh, an asbestos mine near Torino, which was closed in 19, uh, 91 when asbestos was, uh, banned. Asbestos production. And use was banned. I, uh, I did work for the stability of the waste, uh, rock, uh, dams was a very small mine.

[00:01:45] Pietro Jarre: Uh, well, the production was 100,000 tons per year. While, uh, later on in my career, I worked for, uh, Mines we, whose production was [00:02:00] 100,000 tons per day. Uh, one of these mine was the Asal Collier Asal Collier Mine. Uh, actually the, the name of the mine is Les is, uh, close to the Asal Collier Village in, uh, in and Lucia.

[00:02:22] Pietro Jarre: Where since, uh, 3004, uh, sorry, 5,000 years ago, 3000 before Jesus Christ, uh, uh, mining activities, uh, took place in, uh, that part, uh, be, it's, uh, between, uh, it's on the border from Spain and Portugal. There is a so-called parrot belt where copper, um, Iron and, uh, many other metals might be mined. The Rio Tinto, uh, [00:03:00] multinational actually started there.

[00:03:02] Pietro Jarre: Rio Tinto in, uh, Spanish means the Red River. And just the name of that company, Rio Tinto, explains that these mines had an impact on the surrounding environment since thousands of years ago in Asal Courier. Uh, my, uh, assignment was in 1998, um, was to, uh, manage. The reclamation works due to the failure of the tailing dam, uh, which occurred, uh, that year.

[00:03:45] Pietro Jarre: In essence, as it happens, uh, very much more often than, uh, we believe I will come back on this point. Uh, what happened is that, uh, uh, the dam, uh, containing the [00:04:00] tailings, which are created by the crashing of the minerals to extract the metals. This tailing dam, uh, rotated, uh, opened and, uh, the con, the, the tailing contained in the dam, uh, partly, uh, flew, uh, down in the, in the river.

[00:04:23] Pietro Jarre: And in the end, uh, they continued to flow downhill for 40 kilometers. Uh, into the Donna Park. The Donna Park is, uh, a sort of a bird sanctuary where most birds, uh, flying from Europe to Africa stop the sort of rest stop for birds. And, uh, because of this, uh, the tailings. Flowing from the tailing dam, which failed, [00:05:00] uh, down to the Dunna Park.

[00:05:02] Pietro Jarre: Uh, this, uh, this century has, uh, been, uh, heavily polluted, in essence, uh, the sledge flowing down, uh, not so much, but anyway, 5 million cubic meters of, uh, various acidic ledge covered as a cake. For 10, 20, 30 cents, uh, on, on the top soil, uh, covering olive trees, uh, uh, orchards and everything, uh, everything, uh, reached, uh, by the flood.

[00:05:41] Pietro Jarre: My experience, uh, in Spain at the end of that, uh, of the century, uh, showed that, uh, uh, Despite Bo and the Swedish, uh, mining company, uh, spent a fortune. Something, uh, if I remember, like 150 [00:06:00] million euros plus, uh, the mine had to be closed and the mine had to be closed, uh, not because of technical reasons, not because the ore was no longer available, not because technologies were not available.

[00:06:20] Pietro Jarre: Uh, to protect the environment, the population, and so on, but because in essence, the economy of that region of. Was no longer so, uh, low, so poor. Hence, the local administration and the politicians and even the society as a whole could afford the idea of stopping mining activities that had been, uh, uh, 15 years before my experience with the smallest business mining in Ballanger.

[00:06:54] Pietro Jarre: Right. As well as my experience in Sicily, where I, [00:07:00] in essence worked in order to close down in a proper and safe way. The sulfur and potash minds of Sicily, those, uh, minds were opened. Uh, A hundred years, uh, before more or less. And, uh, in, uh, during the century, uh, supplied, Portage sold, uh, for fertilizers and, uh, industrial processes, but, uh, in the sixties and seventies had to be shut down progressively because in essence, uh, potash is, uh, Produced in a much cheaper, uh, way, and in orders of magnitude, uh, higher, uh, from, uh, WAN in Saskatoon, the, the prairies, uh, of, uh, Canada.

[00:07:57] Pietro Jarre: There is more port there than I think [00:08:00] in all the salt dorms in Germany and even the small mines in Italy. The social. Conditions surrounding those mines in, uh, in Italy as well as the, as the los mine in Spain and so on, had changed. And, uh, from a situation or extreme poverty, the land, uh, uh, the society surrounding the mines, uh, had reached a level that, as I said, would allow the people around to live without the mine.

[00:08:35] Pietro Jarre: Now, what has changed? Uh, Uh, dramatically from the two, 200 years ago to current days is that, uh, while mines in, uh, 200 years ago, lasted for many decades. And so when a mine was open, a new society would, uh, would be created with the school's infrastructure. [00:09:00] Houses and the like, which is the case for instance of north, uh, France or, uh, island, I think, uh, or for sure whales.

[00:09:10] Pietro Jarre: Uh, the new mines, uh, which are created now in Africa, for instance, last, uh, very often, uh, for uh, uh, one decade if not less. And so that, uh, Uh, change in the social conditions. The sudden wealth created by the mining activities and the sudden party created by shutting down the, the mines is a much, uh, quicker process.

[00:09:41] Pietro Jarre: Later on, uh, 20 years ago in my career, I was involved with, uh, not exactly mining activity, but with the, the aluminum refinery, uh, located ins. Southwest Snia, it's called, [00:10:00] uh, as much as Southwest of Spain was mined since thousands of years ago. Uh, Sadina was the place where the ancient Romans took, uh, uh, iron from, of course, using slavery and the like in that area.

[00:10:18] Pietro Jarre: Uh, during the fascism, uh, coal mines were opened because the idea of Mussolini was to have an independent, uh, economy. And, uh, so they mined the very poor call from, uh, Southwests. They opened the mine of. From Carbon. Carbon is a new town, was a new town. Now is, uh, is quite very little land And, uh, that sulf, uh, that, that coal was actually full of sulfur.

[00:10:54] Pietro Jarre: Quite terrible, uh, in terms of quality. Much poorer than, uh, [00:11:00] the coal you can mine in Germany or Poland. And the lake, however, was an Italian product, uh, with, uh, the end of the war. Uh, in the fifties, uh, the coal mines were shut down. Uh, I would say fortunately, however, the problem was in that region, which was originally.

[00:11:23] Pietro Jarre: Uh, based on, uh, economy, uh, of agriculture in that region, all the farmers, the former farmers migrated into small towns, became minors. Uh, became dependent on a salary. And so in the sixties, uh, we had a huge problem of assistance. And since then, the Italian government put millions, I would say billions. At this point in that [00:12:00] area in order to sustain an economy which was actually non-sustainable.

[00:12:06] Pietro Jarre: What happened there is that, uh, in the early seventies, uh, they, uh, had the idea of installing in that area. A, uh, full, uh, supply, let's say supply chain of, uh, aluminum. The great idea was if we supply electricity and we, uh, create a waste dump for the red, uh, mud, we can import bide from Australia. We can refine it in order to produce, uh, aluminum oxide a l.

[00:12:45] Pietro Jarre: 2 0 3, uh, pouring into the backside, which is crashed in essence, COSTI hydroxide, which is, uh, N A o H, and creating, uh, in that way a product, which is called [00:13:00] aina. In Italian, we can, uh, with, uh, the use of electricity, a lot of it. We can create a aluminum. And, uh, in doing so, uh, in essence, we, uh, keep, uh, the jobs, which the mining, the previous mining activities, uh, do not, uh, supply anymore.

[00:13:24] Pietro Jarre: So in that area of Nia, which was plague with the consequences of mining coal as well as metals, uh, hence has a, a very spread contamination in on top soils in the air and on of lead and many other heavy metals. They had also to live with the consequences of the aluminum production. The name of backside actually comes from Lebo, the Province, which is a small village near Avenue, and indeed in Marai, which is [00:14:00] downstream.

[00:14:00] Pietro Jarre: A uh, there is still now I think, uh, an aluminum refinery. Which is, by the way, dumping the red mats on the bottom of the sea. The outcome is that, uh, I think two third of the original material goes into a s. Uh, which is, uh, which is very, very liquid, which is pumped into, into tailing pounds. Okay? So again, we, uh, need a tailing pond, uh, close to the refinery because actually, uh, a lot of, uh, a lot of waste is produced.

[00:14:43] Pietro Jarre: And this is an important point, Jerry, which I think, uh, might, might be of interest for the people who are not familiar with mining. The problem in general around the world is not to find all minerals and so on. All the [00:15:00] earth crest is rich in, in that. For instance, along the seaside, uh, near Geneva, there is an historical village, beautiful touristic.

[00:15:12] Pietro Jarre: Which is literally sitting on the largest titanium reserves of the world. The problem is not to find Earth. The problem is to mine it and survive the consequences in terms of environmental impact, of social impact and, and so on. People know that, uh, all Saints exist in Canada, but people should know that from Kyiv.

[00:15:38] Pietro Jarre: Uh, Eastward, there is, uh, there are enough oil sands to kill the planet many, hundreds of times, huh? The problem is not the lack of resources. The problem is that exploiting these resources or better mining them in a sustainable way is very, very [00:16:00] difficult. It's almost impossible in my experience because in essence, in Spain, in Sadine, in SI and so on, my experience shows that show showed to me that the mining activity is, uh, typically at least, uh, in this part of the world.

[00:16:21] Pietro Jarre: Well, we have, uh, relatively wealthy, uh, states. It's an activity which is, uh, carried on in terms of exploitation, preliminary studies, uh, setting of infrastructure, and so on. It's carried on on the, on the shoulders of the taxpayers. Then the exploitation is, uh, really generating profit, so the taxpayers, so the public.

[00:16:49] Pietro Jarre: Part, the first phase is public. The second phase exploitation is private profits go to, uh, specific private companies, and then the real game starts. [00:17:00] The real game is decommissioning. Closing and so on. There are thousands of binds, uh, closed around the world in, uh, including in Europe. There are hundreds, if not thousands of tailing ponds, which have been abandoned while a tailing pond should be carried cared of for hundreds of years.

[00:17:22] Pietro Jarre: Uh, and the, the last phase, the third, uh, the phase number three is again, public. So costs are public and profit are private. That is my, my summary, the Las Vegas mine in Spain afterwards, in essence, closed, uh, 20 years ago, five years ago, I think was considered to be reopened. The reason, the reason is simple, the unemployment rate in under Lucia, which was low 20 years ago because tourism maybe cause severe celebrations and so on, because the new industry [00:18:00] in civilian was boasting.

[00:18:02] Pietro Jarre: Five years ago, the rate for unemployment in under Lucia was one of the highest in Europe, 30%. And so what do we do guys? We open again, the mine. It doesn't matter if, uh, opening the mine gives only in brackets a few hundreds of jobs. Those are jobs and those are the jobs that people might remember. Huh?

[00:18:26] Pietro Jarre: So there was a discussion five years ago about reopening those minds, and I wouldn't be surprised if we go into a, into a recession. I wouldn't be surprised, Jerry, if we cons, we really reconsider reopening some minds in, uh, island West. Or, or, or si Las. Mine is actually an open pit, so it's already, uh, type of, uh, Type of, uh, system, which is, uh, [00:19:00] suitable for new technologies.

[00:19:02] Pietro Jarre: While the old mines may be the, our collective imaginary are, uh, uh, dark alleys, no dark tunnels. And, uh, underground, uh, the, the, the, the modern operations since, uh, let's say 30 years ago, are just very large open pits. Hmm. And so, uh, they are just, uh, very, very large, uh, quarries when I'm, I mean, very large. I mean, kilometers by kilometers.

[00:19:32] Pietro Jarre: Huh. And, uh, Australia is suitable for that. Uh, other mines like in Ireland and uh, England or Italy, and not by chance because of the high density of population are instead underground are very old operations and so on. But I wouldn't be surprised if, uh, Europe goes into a deep economical recession that we'll restart considering some mining activities.

[00:19:56] Pietro Jarre: Indeed. Today what, what we see, [00:20:00] we see, I think, uh, the end or, uh, at least a, a long temporary phase of de-globalization or regionalization due to a number of reasons, economical reasons, transportation costs and so on, and political reasons. And, uh, so I think that, uh, Europe will have to rely on, uh, much closer sources.

[00:20:25] Pietro Jarre: For the materials. The materials we, that we need more and more because the of the ICT industry demand. Hmm. So I, I, I wouldn't be surprised if we will see. Europe number one, trying to exploit more the mines in the East Europe, in the Balkans, uh, and the like in North Africa. And then reconsider some, uh, situations like the sea situation.[00:21:00]

[00:21:00] Pietro Jarre: As I said, it's just a matter of economical and, uh, and social, uh, conditions. I was not surprised when a couple of weeks ago we read the news about the potential new minds for rare Earth in north of, uh, Sweden.

[00:21:24] Pietro Jarre: It seems that, uh, there is a lot of leak, if I remember. And, uh, that is not really important. What matters is that, uh, the, in the Kiruna region, region people are used to mining activities, so all the society is prone ready to accept what goes with mining. I think that, uh, we. Should stop thinking that, uh, these are technical problems which require technical solutions.

[00:21:58] Pietro Jarre: These are political, [00:22:00] economical, and social problems, which require political, social, economical solutions. We really need to change, uh, gear and to stop using the amount of materials we need. We, we use, we need to stop. Uh, Buying a new, uh, smartphone every two years. And like as much as, uh, I'm very keen about, we need to stop, uh, creating more, uh, using more data.

[00:22:32] Pietro Jarre: Because in the end, uh, like in mining, most of what we do is waste. If you're thinking about copper production, uh, gold production, of course, uh, silver production and the LA 99 99 point something percent, its waste of the data we produced every, every day. How much it's waste? 90%, 95, 99. 99.9. [00:23:00] I mean, we all know that we send receive mail.

[00:23:04] Pietro Jarre: Uh, we see videos. Yesterday, uh, during a conversation, I heard someone saying, oh, yes, I switch on a video. But then I, I do other things in my house while I listen to the video, and I've thought, if you need to listen, why on earth are you switching on a video? And audio like this one, the podcast is much more environmental friendly than a video.

[00:23:29] Pietro Jarre: If you don't see it, if you don't watch it, why are you, uh, doing that? But, uh, in every, in every single house. In Europe, you go, there is a TV which is permanently on permanently at eight in the morning, at midnight. That is the habit that we need to stop. And so in manic, like in using digital technologies, we really need, uh, To [00:24:00] learn and to learn back, because we used to know it.

[00:24:05] Pietro Jarre: We used just a few hundred years ago, we used to live having a much lower environmental footprint. I think that's, uh, the real hope. I see that my, my sons, my, my niece and my nephew start to really think in a different way. I'm using what I need. So even mining activities, uh, uh, might become, I, I wouldn't say sustainable, but less unsustainable.

[00:24:35] Gerry McGovern: Brilliant. Um, there's so much therapy, tro uh, l let me unpack, uh, some of it, uh, you know, e everything you've said I a hundred percent, um, a agree with. But just to get, um, a few few things I'd like to just quin in a little, little more, more detail, something you said earlier, near the beginning of our conversation about how.[00:25:00]

[00:25:00] Gerry McGovern: Um, mining 200 years ago was, you know, going to be there for a generation. Mining today is going to be there for, for maybe 10 years. So just, and another thing that it seems like the, the equipment or the technology of mining. The automation of mining is more destructive. It's more likely that historical mining are kind of borrowed under the earth and still left the surface, uh, um, hole, so to speak, or that they'd be silent it.

[00:25:32] Gerry McGovern: Whereas now it seems that it's more economic to basically rip up the surface with, with massive machines. So in, in essence, Mining has become even less sustainable modern mining than mining 200 years ago. Would that be true?

[00:25:50] Pietro Jarre: Today, a dumper in a mine is carrying 200 tons, just a few decades ago was two 20 tons.

[00:25:59] Pietro Jarre: [00:26:00] Okay. Uh, so the size of equipment, the automation and so on requires much larger, much larger, uh, operations. Yes, it's a matter of scale.

[00:26:13] Gerry McGovern: So I've been reading about, um, the history of mining in the Amazon and in, uh, Guinea and in Ghana and, and, and countries like that. And, and what I've been finding is that, you know, the, say the public relations might say, oh yeah, but it's progress in its jobs and.

[00:26:32] Gerry McGovern: Like that. But what I've been finding is that for many in the local communities, they don't get good job jobs in these mines, uh, because a lot are, they bring in professionals or otherwise, but what often happens is that the whatever was there before, whether it was, you know, agriculture or fishing, gets devastated.

[00:26:54] Gerry McGovern: Uh, so that when the minds leave, They leave them in a much worse [00:27:00] situation than they were for the

[00:27:02] Pietro Jarre: mined. Yes, because the economy is no longer connected with the land. Traditions have gone, and I used the this word about the mining industry in Sadina. The people before were independent, very poor, but independent.

[00:27:22] Pietro Jarre: Then they became dependent on a salary.

[00:27:25] Gerry McGovern: But another thing as well is that in, in often in areas, the very land becomes polluted. The waters become polluted. So the fish, the fish are no longer there. The is no longer. So even if they want to back to, it's, it's, it's sometimes very difficult because of the pollution.

[00:27:44] Gerry McGovern: You're right.

[00:27:45] Pietro Jarre: I, I took that for granted. Yes, of course. You're right In, uh, sad. The, the, the, the issues, uh, due to coal and lead and zinc, uh, uh, mining [00:28:00] are such that there is, uh, a very clear indication, uh, in terms of, uh, epidemiological studies. Huh. In terms of, uh, tumors. Diseases and the like. In essence, if you consider 20 years all kind of food, which is cultivated there, wine, olive, tr, olives, and the like.

[00:28:26] Pietro Jarre: All has been banned at some point in time because analysis showed that was not. Um, Uh, limits. Hmm. Uh, and not to mention groundwater. Of course, groundwater is gone. It's fucked up forever because in essence, mining, uh, is, uh, what, what what you do in mining is that you extract the rock and you crash it. So what you do, you multiply by order of magnitudes, the [00:29:00] surface.

[00:29:00] Pietro Jarre: Which is in contact no with water. And so the ability of water to leech out metals. Okay. Hence the Rio Tinto name. It's a river, which is, uh, red in essence because of the leeching of metals. Because, uh, because you are crashing everything. No. And, uh, and so the, the outcome is that, uh, where, where you had a, a solid rock, uh, after that you have, uh, a SLA months and in month we, we die.

[00:29:39] Gerry McGovern: And as well, it's not simply the mixing and the crushing of the, the minerals existent in the place. Often they've been adding chemicals, uh, to, to, to, to leach out the, the specific materials that they're looking for. So you get, you get, it's not just a na a, [00:30:00] a so-called natural mud. It's, it's, it's, it's a, it's a very dangerous

[00:30:05] Pietro Jarre: mud.

[00:30:06] Pietro Jarre: Gold is produced using, uh, cyanides, no, uh, mercury. Uh, mercury, sorry. And, uh, yeah, there is no mining activity, which is not, uh, which is not politic. I mean, with my company, uh, Golder associate, we, we did a lot of consulting work around the world to, uh, We used to say to make a sustainable mining, I would, uh, say today, yes, that was a duration, but however, in essence what we were doing, were limiting the damage.

[00:30:46] Pietro Jarre: Hmm, reducing the damage of an activity, which, uh, can be controlled only if we reduce the demand of me, uh, of metals.

[00:30:58] Gerry McGovern: Tell me, uh, something Vito [00:31:00] about these tailing dams. You know, the cause, uh, there's a lot of invisibility about these, and as you said, they're in, in a way, they're, they're like ticking time bombs.

[00:31:11] Pietro Jarre: Most not all the mining activities are require, uh, beside the, the, the crashing, uh, system, the crashing plant beside the, the refinery attaining, uh, pond. A place were to dispose of, uh, the tailings generated by the process. This point might be, uh, could be in theory, a natural valley. You fill the valley with, uh, tailings that has been done in places like Indonesia.

[00:31:46] Pietro Jarre: Uh, and of course, so if you put the tailings in a, in a, in a valley, The waters which were flowing freely in the valley will flow into the tailings and the waters, [00:32:00] which were coming from the valley downhill. The in gradient will flow the in gradient in one way or the other. The idea that you can, uh, control, uh, uh, the outflow from tailing pounds is, uh, I think it's a mirror illusion.

[00:32:21] Pietro Jarre: However, what we're talking about, we are talking about something like 4,000 tailing pounds of large size, uh, around the world. These facilities should be looked after koff for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Somebody say, 10,000 years. But, uh, that's, that's true for, for radioactive waste, not for mining waste.

[00:32:53] Pietro Jarre: I think, eh, let's, let's say, let's say 1000 years. 1000 years, okay? Uh, that is not, uh, [00:33:00] the case. And very often, uh, these bonds are abandoned. And more often that we know, uh, fail Now, they might fail in a very spectacular way. Like, uh, the Val Bento Rodriguez, uh, uh, the Bento Rodriguez Mine of Valley in Brazil five years ago.

[00:33:21] Pietro Jarre: Uh, I think five years ago, 60 million cubic meters of, uh, tailings flew down R the river. Down to the ocean. I'm pretty sure that was not the first, uh, time. Those mines, uh, caused, uh, problems every year, at least two, but often three or five large tailing pounds fail every year. Hundreds of tailing pond leak contamination, uh, in the surrounding environment.

[00:33:57] Pietro Jarre: Okay. And sometimes they are [00:34:00] designing in such a way that they leak. Now, one of the issues which I learned, uh, are very important with tailing ponds is the amount of water, which is within the tailings and on top of tailings. If, uh, think about a paste a tooth. Uh, paste if you, if you have, uh, if you, if you leave a tooth, Uh, paste, uh, a toothpaste, uh, in the environment, uh, it goes nowhere because the fluidity of the material is very low, doesn't go anywhere.

[00:34:42] Pietro Jarre: In essence, a toothpaste would not need any dam to be contained, and that is also true for tailings from the mining industry. If they can be dehydrated. And worked in such a way that you create a paste. [00:35:00] Uh, the environmental risk, uh, due to tailings is, uh, uh, very much, uh, reduced indeed. Uh, we, uh, with my consulting company, we created, uh, Uh, facilities, many facilities around the world were actually the sledge was, uh, worked of course, spending some money, making some investments, uh, worked in such a way that, uh, uh, the outcome was a pace.

[00:35:37] Pietro Jarre: With many, many advantages from the stability point of view, from the environmental impact point of view, and, and, uh, and the workability of all the, all the, however, that is not the common case and often. These latches are deposited at very high water content, [00:36:00] and not only the tanning point itself is used by the refinery as a reservoir for water.

[00:36:11] Pietro Jarre: And so what happens is that if you have a failure, and this is what I learned and which I didn't find so much, uh, clearly explain in the books, the problem is not necessarily the failure of the tailing pond in absence of floating water, but if you have a lot of floating water, you have everything. Fluid, fluid, fluid, divide, huh?

[00:36:34] Pietro Jarre: Uh, and, and so everything, uh, flows down much, uh, at a much, uh, higher distance, at a much higher, uh, speed. With, uh, uh, much, uh, uh, wider consequences. So I would recommend that, uh, everywhere. Uh, you had to deal with a tailing pond. Watch the water balance. [00:37:00] Watch how much water is left on top of tailings, because that is the most important, uh, risk that you need to manage.

[00:37:10] Gerry McGovern: What you said earlier as well is that, you know, the prospecting, the taxpayer, uh, pays for the prospecting, for the mining, the actual mining for itself. Uh, private industry profits from it. But basically the tailing ponds are left to the public. Is that basically it's the taxpayer who must take up this a thousand year care of, of, of these tailing ponds.

[00:37:39] Pietro Jarre: Yeah. But, uh, that is also, it's also very often the situation with the manufacturing industry. I'm sitting in Torino where we have gone through 30 years of, uh, brutal de industrialization, which has left, uh, many industrial [00:38:00] sites, which are now, uh, to be reclaimed to be. To be reused by the cost for, uh, the cost for remediation and so on are not, uh, uh, addressed to the former industry, but are on our shoulders of taxpayers.

[00:38:23] Pietro Jarre: That is, uh, nothing, nothing different with the mining industry, with the differences of the size of investments needed to reclaim a mining site, are orders of mining to hire. However, on, on the opposite, they're very often in very remote areas, so people. People don't care because they don't see it. They,

[00:38:45] Gerry McGovern: they don't see it.

[00:38:46] Gerry McGovern: But of course it see, it, it seeps into the water table. Could you, uh, tell us the, the journey of box, a little bit about the processing of what it involves and how much [00:39:00] electricity, how much energy

[00:39:01] Pietro Jarre: in, uh, in that era of Snia I mentioned where in the seventies they installed, uh, all the supply chain for aluminum for.

[00:39:11] Pietro Jarre: To the, to the window frames. Huh? Uh, ready for, uh, for, uh, construction industry. Uh, they had to build, uh, a sort of 50 megawatt, uh, uh, power plant, A specific power plant for that industry. Hmm. Uh, which, uh, which, uh, is just telling us that, uh, you cannot just install the, uh, an aluminum melt in every place you want as much as, uh, Jerry, uh, today is the case with, uh, data centers.

[00:39:52] Pietro Jarre: Huh? Data centers. Which sac? Uh, Power in the order of, uh, five mega [00:40:00] megawatt. Huh? They require specific power plant for them, uh, themselves.

[00:40:06] Gerry McGovern: Maybe just to, um, focus a little bit on the

[00:40:10] Pietro Jarre: Redd. Yes. The red. I think we should, uh, yeah, we should re remind that red mats, uh, have a pH between 10 and 12. So you don't want to put your finger in it, huh?

[00:40:28] Pietro Jarre: Because of course you burn. They, that is the main, uh, the main, uh, feature they have. Uh, they contain all sort of heavy metals. I might mention, uh, crab six, uh, crab, uh, mercury, uh, and the, like, they contain arsenic. Uh, they contain all sort of, uh, nice, uh, stuff. Fluorides, uh, at least in [00:41:00] Nia, that was the main problem of fluorides all staff, uh, whose, uh, tolerable concentration is, uh, in part per million.

[00:41:11] Pietro Jarre: Huh? Micro, uh, milligram per to part per million. On top of that, uh, backside, like, uh, Other natural materials have a weak but, uh, important radioactivity. So an activity. They, uh, have emissions in terms of radiations. So nobody, uh, should be scared of this. However, we must be aware of the fact that a lot of construction materials.

[00:41:45] Pietro Jarre: Uh, keep having these, uh, radi activity because natural, uh, curry materials, uh, rocks, particularly rocks, uh, coming from, uh, specific, uh, processes like [00:42:00] rocks coming from all volcanos and the like. They have, uh, these, uh, uh, radi activity. Uh, we are talking about, uh, mainly alpha. Radiations. So radiations, radiations that our skin is able to to stop.

[00:42:18] Pietro Jarre: So the problem is not that if you are in front of a, a radioactive rock, nothing happens to you because the, our skin is good enough to protect. However, what happens when you are crashing it and you're making dust? Very fine dust. What happens is that you inhale, you breathe, and you inhale. And when you inhale and, uh, a particle goes into your lungs, we don't have the skin in the lungs.

[00:42:51] Pietro Jarre: If we had skin in the lungs, we could not breathe, huh? And so those particles goes in direct contact with, uh, with the lengths, [00:43:00] and, uh, then the radioactivity might, uh, took place. There are studies, uh, uh, about this. It's not, uh, bogside is one of many materials, uh, phosphor, Gibsons, and, uh, other materials have a similar properties.

[00:43:18] Pietro Jarre: In general, uh, uh, I would say in general, it is never a good idea to inhale dust, huh? In our cities. Uh, because of the combustion of, uh, coal and oil and, and so of wood and as well as is not a good idea, inhaling dust from, uh, red and, uh, mining, uh, byproducts.

[00:43:46] Gerry McGovern: It's interesting you talk about the red dust because it seems to be a, a common theme that I have discovered in when people in the Amazon where a lot of, um, uh, [00:44:00] uh, backside and alumni processing goes on in, in Guinea and Ghana and countries, they, a lot of the local people talk about the red dust with, with a lot of fear that it, it, it, and it's so fine.

[00:44:15] Pietro Jarre: As well. Yeah, because it's, it's a powder. No. Another interesting point we might make, uh, about, uh, tailing Pond, uh, if I may, Hmm. Uh, in my experience, uh, I was involved with a couple of, uh, tailing pond, uh, failures, but fortunately in those situations, nobody was killed. Particularly in, uh, Las Fri and Lucia, nobody, uh, was killed because, uh, these, uh, flooding actually occurred was not very high.

[00:44:50] Pietro Jarre: Hmm. Uh, was not a high wave of water. And, uh, because the morphology, uh, the landscape [00:45:00] shape. Was is a typical already of the final, uh, length of the river. Uh, the situation is very different when you are talking about taking ponds, which were located on the Alps, for instance, because the mines took place in the past.

[00:45:23] Pietro Jarre: Tennis was produced and pumped on tanning pond, hanging on, uh, Literally hanging on top of mountains, which is was also the case of, uh, of the Brazilian mine. I mentioned before. The Bento Rodriguez, if you go on the web, uh, there was a camera watching this dam. It's, uh, it's really impressive. And the, the turning pond at Ben Rodriguez was hanging, uh, on, on along a slope on a hill.

[00:45:59] Pietro Jarre: In Brazil, they [00:46:00] had, uh, nine people killed. But a big, an Italian, uh, geotechnical engineer. I cannot, uh, avoid mentioning, cannot miss a, uh, mentioning what happened in vala, I think was, uh, 35, uh, years ago, more or less is near train northeast. Was this turning pond basing hanging on slopes in three basins.

[00:46:31] Pietro Jarre: One on top of the other typical situation, I think was built, how can I say, up uphill. So, You build a first layer, then with, uh, with the, the same, uh, with the same, uh, uh, tailing, uh, which is dry along the borders of the, of the pond. You, you build another race, you raise up and [00:47:00] top to toe to crest, upstream and in Val, at some point, everything failed and.

[00:47:08] Pietro Jarre: I'm pretty sure 230 people who are covered with meters and meters of mud. That was the consequence of, uh, mining activity, which had been abandoned, not looked after, and so on. And that was a real, a very small pond in terms of, in terms of. Cubic meters, I think was a matter of 30 50,000 or half a million.

[00:47:33] Pietro Jarre: I mean, nothing, nothing, nothing comparable to the 5 million in Luci, the 60 million in Brazil. However, uh, because, uh, there was a camping site, uh, downhill because, uh, we are in a very highly. High, high density population area and so on. That is where, when, uh, you, [00:48:00] you understand that mining must take place only some, some, some areas not, uh, not others.

[00:48:07] Gerry McGovern: For sure. Maybe to summarize again, and, and you did summarize earlier that you know, we need to, uh, kind of use reuse materials, use less materials that we can't keep going at this rate of material consumption. Maybe that would be a good way to, to summarize or to final your, your final call. In

[00:48:30] Pietro Jarre: terms of, uh, consumption and efficiency and so on.

[00:48:36] Pietro Jarre: I'm an engineer and I notice today I noticed that, uh, when I studied, uh, engineering, uh, 40 years ago, As much as when my son, who is now 35, studied engineering 10 years ago, all we were, uh, all we learned was a series of, uh, prestigious processes, methodologies. [00:49:00] In order to increase the efficiency of, uh, units, huh?

[00:49:06] Pietro Jarre: The efficiency of an engine, the efficiency of, uh, chip, the efficiency of a fridge and the like, technical, uh, people, engineers and so on. They focus very much on, uh, reducing the consumption, the unitary consumption. A actually the, the real stakeholder which matters, which is called Earth. The Earth don't care about the efficiency of a single engine.

[00:49:37] Pietro Jarre: The Earth care as is impacted by the product of the unitary efficiency, multiply by the number of tools which run. So the Earth would be much less impacted if only. One huge [00:50:00] ship with a horrible 200 years old engine would carry goods from China to Europe every day instead of 1 million ships with extreme efficient.

[00:50:15] Pietro Jarre: The point is, Jerry is how much we use how many. Engines, how many computers and so on. So I think the, the point, uh, uh, uh, is that to reduce the consumption of materials as much as to reduce the amount of fossil fuel of energy we use, the point is not to increase deficiency of photoable type panels and so on.

[00:50:42] Pietro Jarre: The, the part is to use less electricity, period. To move to when it's necessary and not when it's not to create technologies which help us in using less materials instead of [00:51:00] the opposite. All the I C T industry, for instance, today. Is, uh, developing products which increase our, uh, use of, uh, of the web. We say that, uh, years ago, we want to move bites instead of atoms.

[00:51:21] Pietro Jarre: But today, the amount of buys that we move is increasing at such a rate that we already have an impact on the energy consumption. And I don't think a solution is to use, uh, renewable energy for data centers. The the is, we should not fulfill the data centers with all the crap that we're feeling with. As much as with the mining industry, we are very, very, very efficient in creating huge dams, huge landfills.

[00:51:57] Pietro Jarre: It seems that humans [00:52:00] first ability is to shit, sorry to shit in some place, huh? And to leave the land full of garbage waste. With data, with materials and the like. So the, the, the, the issue is, uh, is to be tackled, uh, at the root, no, let's, uh, reduce, uh, let's, uh, try to build engineers which are able to understand how to decrease the number of cars used, not how to make the cars more efficient.

[00:52:37] Pietro Jarre: It's called the rebound effect. It's a well known phenomenon. The if, if you increase the efficiency of an engine, you should tax the new engine. More in such a way that people don't buy more engines, not, not, uh, hoping that increasing the efficiency, unit [00:53:00] efficiency will, uh, will, uh, better. The word is, uh, is, is very primitive thought.

[00:53:06] Gerry McGovern: If you're interested in these sorts of ideas, please check out my book, worldwide To hear other interesting podcasts, please visit. This is

John Carter
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