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“Choose France” highlights a contested project for a cobalt and nickel conversion plant in the Gironde estuary

Le Figaro Bordeaux.

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“Choose France” highlights a contested project for a cobalt and nickel conversion plant in the Gironde estuary

Le Figaro Bordeaux

Will the Girondins also have the right to choose? This Monday, May 13, Versailles hosts the seventh edition of the “Choose France” summit, created by Emmanuel Macron in 2018 for foreign entrepreneurs. Among the 56 projects bringing together 15 billion investments, one is already under fire. This is a nickel and cobalt conversion plant, planned on the Garonne, in the Gironde estuary. A project presented as necessary for the decarbonization of the production of electric vehicles, but which poses several risks to the environment.

The EMME (Electro Mobility Materials Europe) project is a major project. Costed at 480 million euros, it plans to create 200 direct jobs in order to convert 20,000 tonnes of nickel and 1,500 tonnes of cobalt per year from 2028, in order to be "one of the first sites specialized in applications of batteries in Europe and France”, with the objective of producing by 2030 enough to cover the equivalent of 20 to 30% of the French electric vehicle market. The location chosen for its installation, the Jalles park, is however part of a natural, agricultural and flood-prone area, 60% covered by environmental protections, including 20% ​​by Natura 2000.

“It’s a project that is not at all adapted to the area for which it is planned,” explains Florence Bougault, of Sepanso Gironde, which brings together several environmental protection associations. “The areas around the Garonne are not buildable and are so for good reasons.” The activist highlights the dangers linked to climate change, with risks of marine submersion and flooding caused by precipitation. “It seems absurd that the prefecture prohibits local residents from building or installing a factory on the banks of the Garonne.”

Although the leader of this ambitious project wants to be reassuring and specifies that studies are “in progress” to ensure that an industrial accident “never happens”, zero risk does not exist, and “at this location it is much greater than zero,” underlines Florence Bougault. On the thirty hectares where the factory should be installed (on approximately 60 hectares belonging to the Grand maritime port of Bordeaux and which will be dedicated to industrial-port activity), it is notably planned to backfill the land by several meters , in the event of an extreme climatic event.

The EMME factory will also be classified Seveso high threshold, the highest level in terms of dangerousness, because the products processed on site - which will then leave the factory to be used to manufacture batteries elsewhere - are particularly toxic. “The two chemical elements that this factory will produce, cobalt sulfate and nickel sulfate, are extremely miscible in water,” recalls Florence Bougault. The Gironde estuary, the largest estuary in Europe, is also a natural space sheltering many protected species. “Building a Seveso factory between two jalles (the watercourses flowing into the Garonne, Editor’s note) will inevitably have repercussions on the surrounding corridors,” Sepanso fears.

A petition has been launched and has already collected more than 1,600 signatures. For the instigators of this text, “the risk of contamination of soil and water by the nickel and cobalt conversion plant is extremely high with potentially serious consequences for human health and biodiversity”. Just like Sepanso, they believe that installing the EMME factory in a flood zone “would endanger the population of Bordeaux Métropole and one of the largest estuaries in Europe, crucial for regional biodiversity”. While the project has already been announced as part of “Choose France”, questions persist about respect for the democratic process, because for the moment, the area is not buildable and consultation is underway. By already announcing this project, the President of the Republic therefore seems to ignore the opinions of residents.

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