BHP Billiton and joint venture partner Vale SA will not be allowed to re-open the Samarco Minerao SA mine without assurances the causes and damages of the deadly tailings dam collapse are fixed, Brazil's environment minister says.
During a visit to Mariana, the township most affected by the November tragedy, newly appointed Environment Minister Jos Sarney Filho said he wouldn't commit to allowing the iron ore mine to restart operations until he had such assurances.
After flying over the region devastated by a tsunami of muddy mine waste in what's considered the worst environmental disaster in the country's history, Sarney Filho refused to sign a statement during an event from the local government that would commit the government to allowing the mine to reopen.
The mine would still need to secure the necessary permits to resume operations.
"I don't yet feel comfortable participating in any act that agrees with facilitating the return of (mining) activity," Sarney Filho said after meeting with Mariana's mayor.
Up to 19 people died in the disaster, which made thousands homeless and polluted key local waterways.
Samarco is one of the largest employers in the region and the cornerstone of Mariana's economy.
Samarco, Vale, BHP and the Brazilian government, including the environment ministry, signed a 20-billion-real (NZ$8.37 billion) accord in March to clean up the disaster area and compensate victims.
At the time, government and company officials said the mine could re-open by the end of 2016. The mine would likely produce at a rate of 19 million tonnes a year, 63 percent of its pre-disaster level.