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BHP's Brazil mine reopens five years after disaster

Ankita Mukhopadhyay
December 24, 2020

The mining giant said that tests had been carried out before restarting operations. The dam disaster at the mine is considered as Brazil's worst-ever environmental disaster.

Brasilien Minas Gerais | 5 Jahre nach Bergbaukatastrophe
Image: Nádia Pontes/DW

Anglo-Australian mining company, BHP Group Ltd, said on Thursday that it was restarting operations at its Samarco joint venture in Brazil.

Samarco, jointly owned by Vale SA, a Brazilian mining giant, suspended operations in 2015 after a mining waste dam burst, killing 19 people.

BHP said that "independent tests" had been carried out on Samarco's preparations before restarting operations. The company said that Samarco would initially produce about 8 million tonnes of iron pellets per annum.

Samarco JV in Brazil
Samarco JV in BrazilImage: Nádia Pontes/DW

The restart of iron ore production at Samarco comes at a time when prices of iron are high, amid a supply shortfall from Brazil.

Brazil's worst environmental disaster

BHP resumed operations just over a month after a $6.8 billion lawsuit filed in the UK against BHP over Samarco was dismissed by a high court in Manchester.

About 200,000 claimants from Brazil were seeking damages for the dam disaster in 2015. This was the largest group claim in English legal history.

BHP said that the court's decision was a welcome move and urged claimants to pursue claims in Brazil.

The Fundao dam burst had sent a torrent of mining waste into local communities. The collapse is considered Brazil's worst environmental disaster, contaminating a river for hundreds of miles to the Atlantic ocean. 

The Fundao dam burst is considered Brazil's worst environmental disaster
The Fundao dam burst is considered Brazil's worst environmental disasterImage: Nádia Pontes/DW

Claimants who had filed the case alleged that BHP executives approved of plans to ramp up the dam's capacity, ignoring safety warnings.

Following the disaster, BHP and Vale set up the Renova foundation to compensate claimants for damages. The company said that by November 2020, around $620 million had been paid in indemnities and financial aid to 325,000 people affected by the disaster. However, claimants say that the amount set aside by BHP isn't enough to cover the damages done by the disaster.