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Spanish mine set to reopen despite environmental concerns

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A controversial Spanish mine is set to be reopened years after it caused an environmental catastrophe.

The mine that caused one of Spain’s biggest environmental disasters will reopen, the Spanish government has announced.

The news comes shortly before the regional elections, causing conservation groups to be sceptical of these plans. These organization see the reopening of the mine as an attempt to win voters over, despite the potential environmental ramifications.

In 1998 the Donana Disaster devastated the local region and the ecological tragedy required a three year €246m clean-up operation.

The industrial accident occurred when the tailings dam burst from Lo Frailes mine in Aznalcollar, near Seville.

Four to five million cubic metres of highly toxic sludge poured into the nearby River Agrio and then into the Guardiamare River. The latter river is the main source of water for the Donana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fortunately, the acidic tailings were stopped, but not until they had travelled around 40 kilometres, devastating the local ecological system.

The impacts of the accident were huge. At least 37 tonnes of fish were killed; 22,000 people were left without clean water and the landscape around the Donana nature reserve still bears the damage today.

However the 950-hectare mining area holds great financial potential as it has 80 million tonnes of extractable ore, containing copper, zinc and lead.

Regional government also claims that 450 jobs will be created if they reopen the mine.

This is significant because Andalucía has one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain and has been hit particularly hard by recent the economic crisis.

However, critics about the reopening of the mine are sceptical about the economic benefits.

With regional elections are coming up, critics argue that the socialist party, PSOE, has recklessly overlooked the environmental risks to push for the economic benefits in order to win votes.

“Since [Andalucía president] Susana Díaz called an early election in January, politicians in the Ministry of Economics have pressured the technical committee into making a decision as quickly as possible, so that an announcement could be made during the election campaign,” said environmental group, Ecologists in Action.

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