Vale green-lights underground mine at Voisey’s Bay – by John Cumming (August 19, 2015)

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry. Editor John Cumming MSc (Geol) is one of the country’s most well respected mining journalists.  [email protected]

The natural resources industry of Newfoundland and Labrador — beaten down as it is by the steep decline in iron ore and oil prices — has received a most welcome board-level confirmation from Vale that it will indeed pursue underground mining at its Voisey’s Bay nickel-copper-cobalt mine in northern Labrador, once the open pit is exhausted in 2020.

Based on current resources, that would add at least another 15 years of life to the mine, which started operations in 2005.

The Voisey’s Bay site consists of a 6,000-tonne-per-day open pit and a concentrator that produces nickel-copper-cobalt concentrate, plus a copper concentrate, at a rate of 40,000 tonnes of nickel in concentrate per year. The remote, coastal site is accessible by air and sea, with concentrate stored and shipped out on a seasonal basis before the site is locked in by ice.

The decision to go underground at Voisey’s ensures a steady feed of nickel concentrate to Vale’s new US$4.3-billion Long Harbour Processing Plant (LHPP) in the town of Long Harbour on southeastern Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula.

Some 450 people work at Voisey’s Bay on a fly-in, fly-out basis and another 475 are employed at LHPP, an innovative hydrometallurgical plant that began operations in 2014, and is ramping up towards its nameplate capacity to produce 50,000 tonnes of finished nickel annually.

Initial work on the underground program at Voisey’s will start next year, creating hundreds of jobs, and once it’s fully operational next decade, full-time employment at Voisey’s Bay will almost double to 850 people.

Despite being 1,129 km apart, Vale considers Voisey’s Bay and LHPP as an integrated operation, with nickel concentrate from Voisey’s Bay sent by ship to Long Harbour for processing into finished nickel, plus copper and cobalt products.

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