Bucko Lake Canada’s Newest Nickel Producer – by Marilyn Scales

Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.

Canada’s newest nickel producer is the Bucko Lake mine near Wabowden, MB. The mine, which belongs to Toronto’s Crowflight Minerals, shipped its first concentrate on Feb. 12, 2008, to Xstrata’s smelter Sudbury, ON.

The initial concentrate shipment weighed of 90.0 tonnes and contained 11.5 tonnes of nickel. Full commercial production is expected early in Q2 2009.

The Bucko Lake deposit was first investigated by Falconbridge, and a 340.0-metre-deep shaft was sunk in 1971-72. The mine is designed for longhole open stoping with sublevel access on 30.5-metres intervals. The intervals are connected via an internal decline. Backfill consists of cemented hydraulic material and development waste.

Underground mining began late last year in the first high-grade stope area on the 1,000 level (305 metres). Lower grade stopes on the 1,000 level are also being mined, and the high grade stope area on the 900 level (275 metres) is now being developed. The main ramp has been driven approximately 115 metres vertically from surface. Some ore development and crown pillar support activities will occur from the 450 level (135 metres), which should be reached late in the first quarter.

The first week in February the 1,000-t/d mill operated at 98% availability. Metallurgical recoveries have fluctuated with the lower grade material and commissioning of the reagent system, with the best recovery thus far being 54% grading 0.7% Ni.

Crowflight says ongoing capital requirements for 2009 will be approximately US$10 million.

Crowflight originally estimated total operating costs to be US$3.24 per lb of nickel. That leaves little room for upward pressure when nickel is selling in the range of US$4.30 per lb. But if the company can make a profit these days, it will be very well positioned to take advantage of the eventual upturn in metal prices. Let’s hope that comes sooner rather than later.