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Through the nickel hoops

IF anyone knows the problems associated with developing laterite nickel mines, it is Minara Resources CEO Peter Johnston. He and his team have sweated blood to get the Murrin Murrin nickel, cobalt and copper producer in WA up to 40,000 tonnes per year nameplate production. The mine was opened in mid 1999 under Anaconda Nickel’s banner and, after numerous failures, reached 36,000tpa nickel in August this year. “When it comes to laterite nickel lessons, Minara can write the book,” Mr Johnston said. “Here beginneth the lesson. You need a strong technical base and a strong partner. A junior just can’t do it. “It is capital intensive and becoming increasingly so. There is no cheap entry. I know, we tried it. “Good infrastructure is critical. “Maintenance is intensive. High-pressure acid leach at 255°C using concentrated sulphuric acid. It’s about the most aggressive process you can get. “Construction. You can’t get a laterite plant up in less than five years. “Costs. Titanium prices have risen 12-fold in three years and you use of lot of titanium building a laterite plant. “The good news is there’s not much on the horizon, so I can’t see any real change in world nickel production before 2010-2012.”

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