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BHP studies processing gold at Kambalda nickel concentrator to avoid closure

BHP Billiton Group is studying whether it can use gold as feed for the Kambalda nickel concentrator in Western Australia as keeping the operation running has been quite challenging due to a lack of nickel ore, Nickel West asset President Eddy Haegel told reporters on the sidelines of Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie, Australia.

Mincor Resources NL and Panoramic Resources Ltd. have shut down their nickel operations, while Independence Group NL is planning to close their Long nickel operations next year.

"At this moment in time, if nothing changes it is likely that we shut the facility," Haegel said, adding that the company is considering gold and adding a flotation circuit at Kambalda.

The company started initial trials with the flotation circuit that did not go well, and the company has now added a gravity circuit which is yielding good results on a cumulative basis.

"We are in conversation with at least one gold producer about the possibility of doing something it and if that were to occur, that would provide enough baseload for us to allow other nickel producers to supply us with small quantities of nickel."

"We're in this window where it could get difficult and it's possible that we could close for a period, but it's possible we could come up with a solution through a gold producer to give longevity [to] the facility," he noted.

After the Long nickel mine has been closed, the operation would still get concentrate from Western Areas Ltd. to produce some 25,000 tonnes of nickel metal.

Haegel stressed the need for exploration, saying the company is currently focused on the north.

"It's a difficult spot, the teams out there understand that," Haegel said. "We talk very openly and plainly about what the future options are, but it is a challenging time. The good news is that Long will run through all of this financial year, which gives us a bit of time to work it out."