Rio secures Bell Bay smelter’s future

Tasmania's Bell Bay smelter looks to buck the current trend of closures as an agreement between Rio Tinto and the government secures it future.

Earlier this year Rio announced it would be divesting its alumina and smelting business, proceeding to shut down or sell a number of its assets around the world.

The miner transferred its Australian and New Zealand assets into a new business group, known as Pacific Aluminium, which was managed separately from the Rio Tinto Alcan group prior to their divestment.

These assets include the Gove Bauxite mine and alumina refinery; the Boyne smelters and the Gladstone Power Station; the Tomago smelter; and the Bell bay smelter, while in New Zealand it will divest the New Zealand Aluminium smelters.

Rio Tinto chief Tom Albanese said the "assets identified for divestment are sounds businesses….but are no longer aligned with our strategy".

Soon after this it closed Lynemouth smelter in the U.K.

In late March the miner also received an approach from H.I.G. for its remaining aluminum assets.

While this was happening a number of smelters around Australia were shut down, including Norsk Hydro's smelter in Kurri Kurri, while Alcoa has been reviewing the future of its Point Henry aluminium smelter in Geelong.

However Rio has now secured the future of its Tasmanian smelter in a 13 year power subsidy agreement with the Tasmanian Government.

"This announcement lifts the cloud of uncertainty that has been hanging over this region and gives the people of George Town and Northern Tasmania renewed hope that they have turned a corner," Tasmanian premier Lara Giddings said. 

"The fact that contracts have been secured until 2025 shows that Pacific Aluminium is here to stay and is an important sign of confidence for the Tasmanian economy."

This agreement comes only a month after BHP restarted its TEMCO smelter operations in Tasmania.

The State Government has been working closely with both Pacific Aluminium and BHP to ensure that they can remain in Tasmania, Giddings said.

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