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Bauxite draws Russian interest

THE State Government has less than three weeks to decide the fate of an untapped bauxite deposit in the Kimberley, which has attracted the interest of a major alumina player.

It is understood Russian giant RusAl has expressed an interest in the 370 million tonne deposit near the scenic Mitchell Plateau.

This week the Government confirmed it had until the end of the year to decide whether or not to renew a State Agreement with a joint venture consisting of Alcoa Australia, Rio Tinto and AngloGold to develop the reserves.

According to the Register of Australian Mining, the Mitchell Plateau Bauxite Company Pty Ltd is 66 per cent owned by Rio Tinto subsidiary Comalco, 22 per cent owned by Alcoa and 12 per cent owned by AngloGold

The arrangement is covered by the Alumina Refinery (Mitchell Plateau) Agreement 1971.

State Development Minister Clive Brown told WA Business News that under the agreement the joint venture partners were required to develop the bauxite reserves, establish bauxite mining and beneficiation operation and an alumina plant.

“The agreement is up for renewal at the end of this year and the State Government will be required to make a decision on whether or not to extend the agreement,” Mr Brown said.

“The agreement is now over 30 years old and these obligations have not been fulfilled.”

Mr Brown confirmed the Government had received expressions of interest in the deposit from a number of parties, including Russian interests. 

“The joint venture partners are yet to advise the State Government of whether they intend to go forward and develop the resource in a reasonable timeframe,” he said. 

“If, for some reason, they are unable or unwilling to do so, the State Government will then have to determine whether the public interest is best served by further extending the agreement or opening up the area to other possibilities if and when the State Agreement is determined,” he said.

The large reserves of bauxite were discovered at Mitchell Plateau and Cape Bougainville in the Kimberley in 1965.

Although of higher grade than those found in the Darling Range, the  Kimberley bauxites are more refractory and difficult to process.

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