First Quantum Minerals (FM-T, FQM-L) has started commercial production at its Kevitsa open-pit, nickel-copper mine in northern Finland. The wholly owned project is the company’s second major foray into nickel, following the 2011 relaunch of the Ravensthorpe nickel-cobalt mine in Australia.
First Quantum, best known over the past decade as a copper producer in Zambia, changed its strategy in the last few years to diversify into other locales and metals, particularly nickel, leading to a string of acquisitions, including Kevitsa in 2008 and Ravensthorpe in 2010, and more recently, the Enterprise nickel project in Zambia, which is part of a US$3.7-billion investment in the country.
Kevitsa hosts proven and probable reserves of 160 million tonnes grading 0.30% nickel, (including 0.27% nickel sulphide) and 0.40% copper, as well as 240 million measured and indicated tonnes grading 0.30% nickel (including 0.28% nickel sulphide) and 0.41% copper.
In the first month of production, extraction costs for nickel and copper were offset by gold, platinum and palladium by-product credits, which lowered nickel costs to US$3.79 per lb., based on a net by-product credit of US$2.50 per lb., and copper costs to US11¢ per lb., based on a net by-product credit of US$1.41 per lb.
In the last nine months, the Kevitsa mine yielded 2,005 tonnes nickel, 4,646 tonnes copper, 3,194 oz. gold, 7,685 oz. platinum and 6,764 oz. palladium, in two concentrates. “The plant is running well and production is ramping up,” the company said on Oct. 31.
On an annual basis, First Quantum expects Kevitsa to produce 11,000 tonnes nickel and 20,000 tonnes copper at a throughput rate of 5.5 million tonnes per year. However, the company is conducting an environmental impact assessment and applying for an environmental permit that would nearly double the annual throughput rate to 10 million tonnes, increasing the annual output of nickel to 15,000 tonnes and copper to 30,000 tonnes. First Quantum expects government authorities to approve the proposal by mid-2013.
Kevitsa is 5 km away from a major highway and 6 km away from a hydroelectric dam. The closest large urban centre is 142 km southwest in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland.
The company’s other three operating mines are the Kansanshi copper-gold mine in Zambia (80%-owned), the Guelb Moghrein copper-gold mine in Mauritania (100%) and Ravensthorpe (100%). In 2011, the company’s total output was 265,576 tonnes copper, 175,225 oz. gold and 5,666 tonnes nickel.
First Quantum is expanding its operations in Zambia with the Trident project, located 150 km west of its flagship Kansanshi mine, which includes the Sentinel copper deposit and the Enterprise nickel deposit. It’s also developing the Haquira copper deposit in Peru, which the company acquired in its takeover of Andina Minerals in 2010.
Once these projects begin producing, the company aims to rank as one of the world’s top-10 largest copper producers.
The Geological Survey of Finland discovered Kevitsa in 1987. After three years of exploration by Finnish metals giant Outokumpu in the late 1990s, the deposit was determined economically unviable and the claims lapsed. It was later picked up by Scandinavian Gold, renamed Scandinavian Minerals and was acquired by First Quantum in 2008 for $281 million.
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