Zambia-based copper miner Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) has affirmed that it has not made a decision to close its Nchanga underground mine or scale down operations at the Nkana refinery, following media reports alleging closures. KCM, a subsidiary of London-listed global diversified natural resources company Vedanta Resources, is one of Africa’s largest integrated copper producers.
It has mines at Konkola in Chililabombwe, Nchanga near Chingola and Nampundwe in the Central province of Zambia. Its operations include openpit and under-ground mines, several concentrators, a state-of-the-art smelter and a refinery. In addition to copper, the company also produces cobalt, pyrite and acids. “The company’s operations remain open and production is continuing. No workers have been laid off and no contracts have been terminated,” the company states, noting that the basis of media stories circulating is an unofficial memo, which has no official sanction from within the company.
However, KCM notes that the implications of electricity cuts are still unclear, with the company in consultation with power provider Copperbelt Electricity Company and the Zambian government regarding the implications of load-shedding.
Zambia is experiencing a power supply deficit of 30%, as water levels at State-owned power utility Zesco’s hydroelectric plants decreased significantly, owing to drought.
Meanwhile, KCM CEO Steven Din noted in the company’s July newsletter that, while the company continues to improve its operational performance, KCM has “a long way to go in ensuring that [it meets its] business plan target”. Din highlighted that integrated mine metal production at the end of the first quarter is 85% of the business plan target.
KCM is developing the flagship Konkola Deep Mining Project, in Chililabombwe. The project involves expanding the production of copper ore at the Konkola mine by accessing the rich orebody that lies beneath what current operations have been exploiting. “This involves the sinking of a new mine shaft to the depth of 1 500 m, the deepest new shaft sinking project in Africa,” according to Vedanta Resources’ website.
Din further highlighted in the company newsletter that there is steady improvement at the Konkola underground mine. “Phase 1 mining of ventilation and slot raises has been completed in the Konkola East section and Phase 2 of secondary development is progressing well,” he stated. Moreover, copper-in-concentrate production has been sustained above 4 000 t for the last two months, Din noted, adding that Konkola “achieved 85% of the business plan target in the first quarter, with production constrained by power outages resulting in flooding at the end of April and beginning of May”.
Nchanga Smelting and Refining He further highlighted that “overall, Nchanga has continued seeing an upward trend in production [having] achieved 89% of the business plan in the first quarter”. The Nchanga mining operations are situated near Chingola. The operations mine primary copper and cobalt through underground and openpits.
Media reports in the newsletter also highlighted that the Nchanga Open Pit Cut II increased production in the first quarter and “beat monthly targets by more than 100% in April and May”. Din noted that, although the company was affected by challenges, such as low dump truck availability, Old East Mill throughput constraints, power outages and power grid instability, the team has corrective action plans in place to stabilise production. Further, the Nchanga openpit mine achieved 123%; Nchanga underground mine achieved 97%; Tailings Leach Plant achieved 97%; and support service achieved 93% of the amount detailed in the business plan.
Din, however, acknowledged that the Nchanga smelter was unable to achieve its targets, owing to low receipts of integrated and custom concentrates resulting in knock-on, low production at the Nkana refinery. The Nchanga smelter achieved 67% of business plan targets, while the Nkana refinery achieved 56%. He added that the company has no control over the copper price, which is set in international markets.
“While we saw steady increases in the copper price at the start of the year, in June and July, this reversed sharply,” he stated. Therefore, Din emphasised the company’s need to redouble its business efforts under the circumstances.