Reduced workforce for Ravensthorpe

First Quantum says its plans for restarting the Ravensthorpe nickel mine include a workforce roughly one third its original size.

The new owner of the Raventhorpe nickel mine is looking to have the operation back up and running within 18 months, but will not refill all of the 1,800 jobs that were lost when BHP Billiton shut it down in January.

First Quantum expects around 600 jobs will be created when the operation comes back online in late 2011, director of business development Martin Rowley told journalists in a conference call this week.

The Canadian miner finalised its US$340 million purchase of the mothballed laterite nickel mine on Wednesday.

BHP closed the mine only eight months after it was opened due to a steep drop in nickel prices and costly production methods making its operation unprofitable.

According to DJ Carmichael resource analyst James Wilson, production costs at Ravensthorpe are increased because of the lower grade of material mined.

“The trouble with Ravensthorpe is its high production costs because it is a laterite nickel operation,” he told MINING DAILY.

“When it went under it was experiencing quite high production costs because it is very low grade.”

Rowley said that First Quantum scientists have been able to develop a method to improve the cost effectiveness and efficiency of processing the sticky laterite nickel.

“The problem is that it is sticky ore and it wasn’t running. It was getting stuck in the flow,” he told Fairfax.

“We will redesign the front end so sticky ore is massaged through.”

The Canadian miner also does not face the same bureaucratic hurdles as BHP in implementing new strategies, he said.

“We are a far more flat organisation: if there are any sorts of problems, we don’t have to go through a bureaucracy to get approval to make changes,” he said.

First Quantum chief executive Philip Pascall has said the company will spend up to an extra $145 million getting the project ready for operation.

The company is expected to produce an average of 39,000 tonnes of nickel a year for the first five years after operations restart, while overall production over the mine’s expected 32 year life is forecast at 28,000 tonnes a year.

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