Vale starts nickel shipments from Sudbury smelter

5th February 2010 By: Liezel Hill

TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Brazilian-owned Vale Inco shipped the first nickel matte product on Thursday from its smelter in Sudbury, Ontario, after restarting the plant last month, and is looking ahead to an eventual return to full operations in the region, spokesperson Cory McPhee said on Friday.

Vale announced in January it would resume operations at the smelter at 50% of capacity, despite a six-month-long strike by more than 3 000 unionised workers at its Sudbury operations.

The nickel shipment is headed for Vale Inco's downstream nickel refining facility in Clydach, Wales, for further processing, McPhee said.

Vale first resumed some mining operations and started up its Clarabelle mill in October last year, focusing on copper and precious-metal rich ore.

While mining activity has been limited up until now, the firm announced earlier this week it will move to full production at the Coleman mine and restart and ramp up to full capacity at the Creighton operation, while continuing partial production at the Garson ramp mine.

To date, the company has used nonstriking workers to staff the operations, but it expects to make use of a mining contractor as operations ramp up.

“We are now in continuous production. Our mill continues to process materials from our Coleman and Garson mines and we are currently drawing feed from inventories for processing in the smelter,” McPhee said.

“Our preference, and our ultimate objective, remains to resume full operations normally with all employees returning.

“However, so long as the current impasse with the USW [United Steelworkers] continues, we must and will continue to move forward with the business,” he said.

There are currently no talks scheduled between Vale Inco and the USW.

Vale also said on January 25 that it would resume mining and milling at its Voisey's Bay nickel operation, in Labrador, after negotiations with striking workers broke down again.

The Voisey's Bay operation has been idle since mine workers belonging to the USW began a strike on August 1.

Vale, the world's second-largest mining company, bought Canadian nickel-miner Inco in 2007.