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Source: New Zealand Government

The Government has today welcomed confirmation of waste remediation actions from Tiwai smelter owner Rio Tinto, including the removal of aluminium dross in Southland to the Tiwai site and paying the costs of doing so.

That also involves taking on the $4 million in funding commitments of the Government, councils and landowners in relation to the dross stored in the former paper mill in Mataura.

In a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Energy Minister Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker, Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said the company would make right its environmental performance at New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS).

The undertakings follow a face-to-face discussion between Jacinda Ardern and Jakob Stausholm in Wellington in early May and an earlier meeting between Grant Robertson, Megan Woods, David Parker and Aluminium Group Chief Executive Ivan Vella and the general manager of NZAS Stew Hamilton.

“It has taken a long time to get to this point, but we welcome this commitment and the more conciliatory and open stance that NZAS has taken in recent months,” David Parker said.

“We also welcome the acknowledgment by NZAS of its responsibilities and how its environmental performance had disappointed the Government and the community of Southland.”

“We acknowledge and thank Ngāi Tahu for their role in highlighting the importance of environmental remediation and continue to encourage Rio Tinto to work with Ngāi Tahu.”

“We appreciate Mr Stausholm’s efforts to rebuild an ongoing collaborative and positive working relationship. With the smelter expected to close by the end of 2024, it is important to ensure these commitments are followed up by action to get the environmental outcomes for Southlanders and the region,” Mr Parker said.

The new undertakings go beyond the removal of the dross, and are to:

  • Relocate the Taha Ouvea from all other Invercargill locations as the space at Tiwai allows. Once the Mataura material has been moved we will begin the relocation of material from other buildings in Invercargill, with an initial 2000 tonnes expected in the second half of 2021. Further relocation will occur when material from Tiwai has been processed.
  • Fund the shortfall in processing costs for Taha Ouvea. It is estimated that there is a current funding shortfall of $2 million to enable the full 23,000 tonnes of material to be processed.
  • Take full funding responsibility for the Taha Ouvea and in doing so, assume the current funding commitments of NZAS, The Ministry for the Environment, Invercargill City Council, Environment Southland, Gore District Council and building owners ($4 million).
  • Provide an undertaking to remove and process the buried Haysom’s dross on site. This dross was relocated from Bluff approximately 20 years ago and has a government indemnity in place.
  • Work with Ngāi Tahu, MfE and Environment Southland and government officials to identify other processing options for Ouvea and Spent Cathode Linings (SCL).
  • Implement, by Q4 this year, new technology that enables the elimination of washing shells of reduction cells with water. This will significantly reduce cyanide emissions to the coastal marine environment. NZAS’ emissions are already better than consent levels, and the change will take the emissions to very low, and certainly world class levels.
  • Share soil contamination data, as part of our closure study process, in Q3 with Ngāi Tahu, Environment Southland and MfE.

They add to earlier undertakings to:

  • To relocate the Mataura Ouvea to Tiwai point. As of 17 May, 3000 tonnes of material remain stored at Mataura. Progress will continue over the next few weeks until approximately 1500 tonne remain. We will then await the arrival of the remaining shipping containers (coming from China) in mid-June to complete the removal. Shipping container availability has been very tight globally.
  • To remove all SCL from the Tiwai peninsula at closure.
  • To share 20 years of ground water monitoring results from the SCL pad and landfill – this is now completed.
  • To share the sampling plan for soil contamination on site – this is now completed.
  • To work with Environment Southland and Ngāi Tahu to develop further sampling plan requirements and assess options to address the outcomes of the sampling.
  • To commit to collaborating with Environment Southland officials allowing them access to site and to working closely with Ngāi Tahu to ensure our standards reflect the cultural significance of Tiwai Point.

MIL OSI