The government will continue to gather opinions before deciding whether to halt bauxite exploration projects in the Central Highlands, a senior government official said Saturday.
"It's necessary to listen to concerns of the public and intellectuals, but we need time to analyze them before reaching a final decision," Nguyen Xuan Phuc, chairman of the Government Office, told the press.
"Whether to halt the projects or not is a matter of significance," he said. The bauxite projects had been approved by the Party's Central Committee, the government and the National Assembly and a decision on whether or not to stop them will have to be considered carefully, he said.
A group of scientists and intellectuals have signed a petition asking the government to halt the projects to conduct further research and gather public opinion on the matter.
Former Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh and former Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dang Hung Vo are among the petitioners.
Concerns have been raised about Vietnam's two bauxite mining and processing complexes in the Central Highlands especially after the recent red sludge spill in Hungary. The sludge is a byproduct of refining bauxite into alumina.
State-owned mining group Vinacomin has affirmed that the projects in Vietnam are safe, but said it would take measures to minimize environmental impacts in the event of an accident.
Nguyen Van Ban, who formerly headed Vinacomin's aluminum project, said in an interview with Tuoi Tre newspaper on Sunday that when there are fears that the projects are not safe, it's a right move to halt them.
"The catastrophe in Hungary was serious," Ban said. "It's a painful lesson because Hungary is among countries with leading technologies in bauxite mining."
"It is a warning for Vietnam," he said, noting that red sludge treatment methods used for Vietnam's projects are not the latest.