November 2009

Cooperation key

Xstrata’s Nickel Rim South project approaches completion

By D. Zlotnikov

Ventilation surface fans at Nickel Rim South. Nine kilometres north of Sudbury, the mine is expected to provide high value ore to Xstrata Nickel’s nearby smelter for at least 15 years.

A decision to employ an approach utilizing engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) was deemed vital to the success of the Nickel Rim South project, which is expected to be completed on schedule, within  budget and, most importantly, safely.

With more than 80 active mines and processing facilities across five continents, Xstrata does not lack experience at starting up new mines. But no matter how experienced the company, each new mine is an enormous undertaking, with unique challenges and demands. Now, with Xstrata’s Nickel Rim South Mine in Sudbury approaching completion, it’s an excellent time to take a closer look at the newcomer’s progress and promise.

According to the International Nickel Study Group, North and South America together produced 312,900 tonnes of nickel in 2008. Nickel Rim South has already changed the picture for 2009, contributing 8,640 tonnes, or just under three per cent of that amount. The mine’s impact will increase significantly when it begins commercial production. In 2011, once output reaches the target of 1.25 million tonnes per year, Nickel Rim South will account for an impressive 20,800 tonnes of nickel, approximately 6.5 per cent of the Americas’ total.

Once the deposit, located north of Sudbury, was discovered in 2001, at depths between 1,100 and 1,800 metres, Xstrata Nickel spent the next couple of years on additional surface drilling in an effort to further delineate and define the resource. The company went ahead with the prefeasibility study in early 2003, followed shortly after by a full-scale feasibility study. Based on the promising results from this work, Xstrata made the decision to begin construction, with execution commencing in early March 2004.

Rick Collins, the new mine project manager, joined the project in May 2003. He has been there to witness and guide the project through its construction and development to date.

“A new greenfields underground mine project goes through some fairly distinct phases,” says Collins. “You have about a year of shaft sinking setup, during which time you establish the site and shaft sinking infrastructure, (including the hoists, headframes and hoisting plant) the shaft sinking stages, the shaft collars, electrical supply services, and so forth.” This phase lasts approximately one year, according to Collins. Once the setup is complete, the shaft sinking itself is ready to begin. At Nickel Rim South, the sinking phase began in early 2005, some 11 months after the go-ahead.

Going vertical

“We sank two shafts – a 7.6-metre diameter production shaft and a ventilation/secondary egress shaft at 6.1-metre diameter,” Collins continues, “both of which were completed safely and on schedule. This stage lasted approximately two and a half years, and was completed in the third quarter of 2007.”

The main shaft descended to a depth of 1,735 metres, with the secondary shaft not far behind, at 1,685 metres, typical depths for the Sudbury Basin, according to Collins. But with the completion of the shafts, Nickel Rim South also hit another significant milestone.

“Health and safety in heavy construction and shaft sinking is always a challenge,” explains Collins. “If you ask me which factor the team would point at as being most proud of, I’d say it’s that we’ve completed two deep shafts, for a total of 3,400?metres of shaft sinking, without sustaining a lost-time incident. I don’t believe that’s been done in the industry before.” In fact, he adds, development and construction continued for five years, totalling over 5.6 million work hours, without a single lost-time incident.

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