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Chile's Codelco restarts copper smelter, mine projects

Highlights

Furnaces at Chuquicamata smelter begin reheating Aug. 1-2 weekend

Construction of additional mine level at El Teniente to resume

Santiago — Chile's Codelco has begun to restart the smelter at its Chuquicamata complex as well as giant construction projects at its Chuquicamata and El Teniente mines as the number of positive novel coronavirus cases among its workforce appears to be falling.

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All three were halted in late June and early July as the state-owned miner strove to contain outbreaks at different sites.

Codelco began heating furnaces at the Chuquicamata smelter over the Aug. 1-2 weekend while workers have already begun to return to the underground mine at the site, the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the company's management is working on plans to resume construction of an additional mine level at El Teniente in the coming weeks.

Most of Chile's giant mining industry has continued to operate despite the country being buffeted by the pandemic.

To reduce the risk of infection, the number of workers onsite was drastically reduced from March onward, shift cycles have been lengthened and many auxiliary activities, including mine development and maintenance, have been suspended.

However, following a spike in the number of cases in June, unions at Codelco threatened stoppages unless more was done to contain the pandemic, prompting more radical measures.

The smelter at Chuquicamata is one of Chile's largest with the capacity to handle 1.65 million mt/year of copper concentrates and processes production from Codelco's Chuquicamata, Ministro Hales and Radomiro Tomic mines.

Launched in 2019, the Chuquicamata underground mine is designed to maintain production from the porphyry deposit as the existing open pit becomes too deep to mine.

The additional mine level at El Teniente will keep the world's largest underground copper mine in production into the second half of the current century.

To reduce the risk of infection, Codelco said it will continue to avoid using the airport at Calama, the nearest airport to Chuquicamata, and move workers from outside the city in sealed buses from airports in the nearby cities of Antofagasta and Iquique.