Workers are dying in the ‘contaminated’ city of the EV industry

After BNI rejected their demands, the workers called a strike from January 11 to 14. 500 security personnel were sent to the industrial estate. Workers who attended the strike say security forces fired bullets into the crowd. “They were firing bullets everywhere. It was chaos,” says a BNI employee.

According to official reports, two workers, a Chinese and an Indonesian, died and 71 were arrested. A 100-room dormitory was burned down and vehicles and machinery were destroyed.

Huayue Nickel-Cobalt, Gunbuster Nickel Industry, Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park, Tesla and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

But one rack from GNI’s general manager, Teh Cha Les, published on the company’s website on Feb. 15, said that “things are still not optimal” regarding occupational safety. “We are urgently asking for instruction and guidance to improve a better, healthier, safer and more comfortable working environment for the entire workforce,” he added.

The labor problems at IMIP are accompanied by serious concerns in Indonesia about the environmental impact of the nickel industry. That reports a Brookings Institute report in September, Indonesia’s nickel sector is “extremely carbon-intensive and environmentally damaging”, due to its dependence on coal.

More than 8,700 hectares of rainforest have been destroyed in the North Morowali Regency, where IMIP is based, since 2000, according to an analysis by Greenpeace Indonesia conducted on behalf of WIRED, as trees have been cleared to make way for mines, smelters and the necessary infrastructure. to support them.

The erosion of the landscape has made it susceptible to natural disasters. In June, more than 500 homes were in the area hit by flash floods. Land clearing has made this an annual occurrence, leading to drownings and the destruction of homes, bridges and government buildings. “The floods are now unavoidable because of the massive land clearing,” said Kasmudin, an environmental activist.

In Kurisa, a village on the southeastern edge of IMIP, indigenous Bugis Wajo people told WIRED that the pollution has destroyed their livelihoods. “There are no fish here anymore,” says Jus Manondo, a 45-year-old fisherman who sits on the wooden deck of his stilt house. “IMIP’s garbage killed them.”

In June 2021, a huge pile of coal fell into the hot water outlet of IMIP’s steam power plant and flowed straight into the sea, turning the water black, Manondo said. Dumping of waste is also common. WIRED observed polluted water flowing directly into the sea a few hundred yards from Manondo’s house.

Manondo’s catches are now less than 20 percent of what they were a decade ago. The village’s fishermen are now forced to travel further offshore to find fish, but with the high cost of fuel it is a question of diminishing returns. “Sometimes we catch just enough to feed ourselves,” says Manondo. “Soon we won’t even have that anymore.”

Despite evidence that the nickel rush driven by demand for EVs has already crossed the boundaries of social and environmental sustainability, Indonesia’s industry is still expanding.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk set the goal of sales of 20 million electric cars per year by 2030 – an increase of more than 13 times the expected sales in 2022. The company’s competitors are also scaling up production of electric cars. The automotive research company Virta predictions that there will be 140 million electric cars on the roads worldwide by 2030, up from 16 million in 2021.

According to analysis according to research firm Rystad Energy, demand for high-quality nickel will exceed supply by 2024. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 11 percent of the world’s nickel, the market has tightened further, driving prices on the London Metal Exchange to a 35 years high.

To take advantage of the upcoming push, the owners of IMIP doubling the size of the site and are building a second park, Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP), on the neighboring Maluku Islands, which eventually cover 5,000 hectares.

“Whatever profit this brings, it will not be enough,” says Hakim of WALHI. “We can’t save the planet by destroying it.”

This story was reported with support from the Pulitzer Center.

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