World’s top copper producer faces lengthy smelter halt at major mine

Chile’s state miner Codelco, the world’s No.1 copper producer, has revealed its smelter at Chuquicamata, its second largest operation by size, will be running at reduced rates until at least the end of the year, as it hurries to complete a planned overhaul ahead of stricter emissions standards coming in effect.

Chile's Codelco is in the midst of upgrading its smelter at Chuquicamata, its second largest operation by size.

Unions expect production at the facility to be suspended for at least 60 days, while the company said some processes are likely to be affected for as many as 80 days, starting Dec. 13. That day, Bloomberg reports, is when the new rules will begin to be enforced.

Century-old Chuquicamata is running out of profitable ore and has to switch to a modern underground operation. The new mine, this time underground, will need 1,700 fewer workers, the company has said, partly because conveyor belts will replace trucks.

Codelco, which hands over all of its profits to the state, holds vast copper deposits, accounting for 10% of the world's known proven and probable reserves and about 11% of the global annual copper output with 1.8 million metric tonnes of production.

The company handles nearly 4 million tpy of concentrates at its four smelters – Ventanas, Chuquicamata, Caletones (El Teniente division) and Potrerillos (El Salvador division).

Last year, Chuquicamata produced 330,900 tonnes of copper, out of Codelco’s total of 1.734 million tonnes and the miner contributed nearly $3 billion to Chile's coffers.