Czech political parties clash over who should exploit lithium reserves

The Czech Republic has the biggest reserves lithium reserves in Europe with one company at the moment having taking the lead in prospecting those reserves and planning their extraction. But some political parties now appear to be discussing whether the state should be taking the lead in exploiting this strategic mineral.

Lithium, photo: Tomihahndorf, Public DomainLithium, photo: Tomihahndorf, Public Domain It’s estimated that the Czech Republic has around 3.0 percent of the world’s reserves of lithium. That might not sound like much but the overall reserves are not that great to start with, the market for the rare metal is booming, and the Czech supplies are on the doorstep of many of the potential customers in neighbouring Germany and the rest of Europe.

Lithium is used for long lasting batteries in everything from mobile phones to electric cars and after a rocking rise in world prices over recent years the prices are again up this year by around 18 percent. That is now focusing some attention and sparking discussion over how those Czech reserves should be exploited.

The main Czech reserves are sited in the north of the country near the German border at Cínovec and European Metals, an Australian-based company has taken the lead in researching the reserves with plans to exploit them commercially in two to three years. Keith Coughlan is managing director of the company and previously described to Radio Prague the extent of the Cínovec reserves.

"It’s a little over 6.0 million tonnes of LCE, which is Lithium Carbonate equivalent. It’s contained in around 550 million to 600 million tonnes of ore. It’s fairly low concentrations that comes to just over 6.0 million tonnes LCE."

Cínovec, photo: Jens Jäpel, CC BY-SA 3.0Cínovec, photo: Jens Jäpel, CC BY-SA 3.0 There are also some smaller reserves in west Bohemia in the so-called Český Les region. But, according to public service broadcaster Czech Television some political parties are questioning whether a private company or the state should take the lead in mining Cínovec’s reserves. The head of the ANO party, Andrej Babiš, questioned if it is right that a company which sank a few dozen million crowns would get to mine a resource he estimated to be worth 80 billion US dollars. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) has taken a similar line saying that its not a given that the private company will take the lead in mining the final resource.

The Social Democrats and centre-right parties though, according to the broadcaster, see less of a problem of a private mining company being involved saying that it has the required know-how.

Social Democrat Minister for Industry and Trade, Jiří Havlíček, told the broadcaster that negotiations are now underway about what sort of public-private cooperation could be sealed with Geomet, the Czech company owned by European Metals. He added that Geomet had along with the research permit a priority position when it comes to mining the local lithium reserves as well.