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Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

A gold smelter in Baia Mare, Romania, partly owned by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd and Romania's Aurul SA is going to reopen after nearly five months. A cyanide spill from the unit had polluted the Tisza and Danube rivers flowing through Romania, Hungary and Serbia in January, killing fish and other water life (Down To Earth, Vol 8, No 20).

The authorities say that they have taken precautions so that the disaster does not occur again. Some of these include installation of equipment to prevent overflow. The recently installed open circuit system will pump the water from the tailings dam via the existing pipeline back to the plant site or directly to the nearby Bozinta dam in the case of heavy rains.

The company has also raised the freeboard, the distance between the water level and the top of the dam and also strengthened dam walls. It also plans to install a permanent cyanide detoxification unit as an additional precautionary measure.

The plant is being opened with support of government, environmental authorities and local people and hopes to return to normal operational capacity. The plant has been maintained on a care-and-maintenance basis during the shutdown. Money for maintenance and modifications have come from the shareholders in Aurul SA. As a result of the spill, trading in company shares has been suspended leading the company to incur debt. Now, the company hopes to come out of debt.

According to Michael Hardy, Esmeralda's lawyer, they have not been notified of any legal action against the company by the Hungarian government or about any demand for compensation. Hungary, which had been worst affected by the spill, expresses surprise at Romania's decision to reopen the plant.

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