Santiago — Work to develop a large underground operation at the Chuquicamata copper mine in northern Chile is on track for production to begin in 2019, a manager at state-owned copper company Codelco said Tuesday.
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Speaking at the MinSub underground mining conference in Santiago, Francisco Carrasco, strategic planning manager for the Chuquicamata underground project, said that despite some initially difficulties in building the necessary tunnels and shafts, progress was on track.
Tunnel builders are now just 15 meters from completing the 900 meter deep extraction shaft.
Transport, air injection and access tunnels are now either complete or near completion, meaning that mass construction of the network of tunnels can continue without interrupting operations at the Chuquicamata open pit, one of the world's largest copper mines.
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The mine will eventually consists of 143 km of tunnels and 19 km of conveyor belts with the capacity to haul 150,000 mt/day of crushed rock 900 meters up to the surface.
"By the time it is finished it will be the world's largest electromechanical system," Carrasco said.
Codelco is converting Chuquicamata into an underground mine at a cost of $4 billion as the century-old pit is too deep and ore grades too low to continue operating.
However, once the underground mine is in production it will take several years to ramp up to its capacity production of 367,000 mt/year of copper.
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