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Can a Sustainable Mining Experiment in New Caledonia Power Tesla’s Ambitions?

Can a Sustainable Mining Experiment in New Caledonia Power Tesla's Ambitions?
Written by publishing team

“New Caledonia, in its way of exploiting its ore, is seen as a country that contributes to the fight against global warming,” Luis Mapu, president of the territory, said in an interview. “We have very high production costs in New Caledonia, it’s true, but we respect human rights, we respect the rights of the local people and we respect the environment.”

Even with protective barriers in place, natural resource extraction remains a sensitive issue in New Caledonia. Nickel prices are up about 25 percent this year, reflecting the metal’s importance in the campaign to move away from fossil fuels. But so far, this has not led to greater profits for the miners.

Goro’s former owner, Brazilian mining giant Vale, was desperate to extricate himself from the mine. Tensions over who will buy the nickel processing plant have led to protests that have forced Goro to close for several months, a type of supply chain disruption that could prove disastrous for Tesla. The conflict also caused the fall of the New Caledonian government earlier this year.

“In the history of nickel in New Caledonia, there is a battle between the multinational population and the local population, and there is also the colonial history,” said Mr. Mapu, who took power after the Goro conflict and was the first Kanak chief in the territory. “With Tesla, with the new ownership, we have a compromise now that makes it possible to open the Goro factory, but it’s still fragile.”

The coastal road to Goro, which winds through a bay studded with colorful coral, is littered with charred cars. Dozens of burnt-out vehicles are remnants of the months-long conflict that disrupted the mine and led to the collapse of the New Caledonian government in February. They are a profound reminder of the tense policies that could hamper Tesla’s efforts to secure a steady supply of nickel.

Andre Fama was one of hundreds of Kanaks who blocked the road with burning tires and vehicles this year, choking mine operations.

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