Tsumeb smelter passes health testBy: JO-MARÉ DUDDY
UPGRADES at the Tsumeb smelter to protect workers’ health have convinced Government to allow Namibia Custom Smelters (NCS) to increase its monthly capacity to smelt copper concentrate from 7 000 tons to 14 000 tons immediately.
Environment and Tourism Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah in April told NCS to cut its monthly production from 18 000 tons to 7 000 tons following a preliminary report which showed that the uptake of arsenic at the smelter was excessive and posed a serious health risk to many workers. According to the report, NCS emits about 60 000 tons of sulphur a year into the environment in the form of sulphur dioxide. This can cause acid rain, which kills plants over a wide area and causes breathing problems for people.
Cabinet subsequently instructed NCS to upgrade its systems.
Running at a fraction of its capacity cost NCS about N$30 million per month, NCS vice president and managing director Hans Nolte told The Namibian on Thursday. He said NCS and Ndaitwah’s technical committee, tasked to oversee the upgrades, are cooperating well and in good spirit.
NCS’ Canadian owner, Dundee Precious Metals, on Wednesday issued a statement saying that Ndaitwah gave the go-ahead to up smelting to 75 per cent of capacity.
“At this level, the smelter … is capable of processing all current and future concentrate production by the company’s [Dundee] Chelopech mine in Bulgaria,” the statement said.
Dundee said the higher production will allow the technical committee to independently measure emissions to “confirm that NCS’ fugitive dust management improvement projects, aimed at improving off-gas capture and workplace conditions to better comply with national standards, are performing as required”. NCS will also continue to monitor its own upgrades.
Nolte said Government’s safety audit was done before NCS voluntarily invested hundreds of millions and embarked on safety upgrades through its Project 2012 at the beginning of 2011.
Dundee said talks regarding further phases or next steps will depend on verification that during this production increase NCS is continuing to provide for adequate protection of employee health. If the committee is happy with the progress, it might allow the smelter to increase its production even further.
The committee, together with company’s engineering contractors, next month will also review NCS’ newly developed schedule to install a sulphuric acid plant. The schedule provides for the commissioning of the plant, an investment of around N$1,4 billion, in the third quarter of 2014.
By 2015, when all NCS’ projects should be implemented, Dundee’s investment in Namibia since 2010 should total about N$2,6 billion.
Over the last two years, NCS’ workforce has grown from 240 permanent employees to 540. Taking into account on site workers and contractors, NCS provides jobs to about 1 100 of Tsumeb’s 20 000 residents, Nolte said.