Supporters of Queenstown’s copper mine say reopening plans are unaffected by the smelter closure. (Rick Eaves )
There are new uncertainties about the reopening of the mothballed Mount Lyell copper mine on Tasmania’s west coast.
Copper Mines of Tasmania (CMT) put the mine into caretaker mode more than four years ago after three miners died in two incidents, resulting in about 200 job losses, but there are plans to reopen it with help from a Tasmanian State Government subsidy.
CMT parent company Vedanta has now been forced to shut down its copper smelter in India due to environmental concerns.
CMT was sending its ore to the Indian smelter when the operation was in production, and the plan was to send the product there again when operations recommenced.
The Tamil Nadu State Government’s order to permanently shut down the Tuticorin smelter came after police shot dead 13 protesters at the site in May, when people opposing a planned expansion of the site had gathered.
Wayne Bould from the Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council has downplayed concerns.
“It’s not the only smelter in the world, and certainly any company has the capacity to make an arrangement with another smelter somewhere else in the world,” Mr Bould said.
“Speculating doesn’t add any value to the argument about Mt Lyell either way, and alternative arrangements can be in place.
“Not every copper miner in the world has a smelter or owns one or operates one, [and] toll processing is common in the mining industry.”
The Mount Lyell mine at Queenstown was the site of three fatal mining accidents.
Craig Gleeson, 45, and Alistair Lucas, 25, fell to their deaths in the Mt Lyell Copper Mine in Queenstown when the wooden platform they were working on collapsed in December 2013.
Thirty-nine days later, 55-year-old Michael Welsh died after he was crushed by a sudden inundation of mud while he was removing sediment from the same mine.
The Tasmanian Government has committed $9.5 million for projects aimed at restarting the mine.
An announcement about a reopening was expected this year.
West Coast Mayor Phil Vickers said he wasn’t concerned.
“Vedanta’s a really big company, they’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the care and maintenance and the redevelopment there, along with the State Government’s contribution so I think it will reopen in due course,” he said.
“If you were to announce a reopening within the next three months, they won’t produce any copper concentrates for another 18 months, so it’s probably close to a year and a half, coming up to two years before they’ve even got any concentrate to send to India, so I think it will be resolved before then.”
In a presentation on Vedanta’s website, the company’s chairman Anil Agarwal said the company wanted the Indian smelter to continue operating.
“We are waiting for clearance from the court and the government to restart the plant,” he said.
“We are strictly following what the court and government orders are.”
A spokesman from Copper Mines of Tasmania said it still planned to reopen the Queenstown mine, and was looking at other options for smelting its product.