TOKYO, May 11 (Reuters) - Japan’s JX Holdings Inc said on Wednesday its Caserones copper mine in Chile ran at about 80 percent of capacity in March, missing its target for full utilisation during the month.
JX, whose metal unit is Japan’s biggest copper smelter, is now aiming to reach near full utilisation at Caserones by the end of September, Executive Officer Katsuyuki Ota told a news conference for the company’s full-year earnings results.
Output at the project has been behind schedule since it started producing in May 2014 in the arid mountains of northern Chile, and its problems highlight the challenges facing miners in the country as they scrabble through far-flung locations now more accessible deposits have largely been tapped out.
For the year ended March 31, Caserones produced 52,000 tonnes of copper concentrate, up from 19,000 tonnes in calendar 2014, said a spokesman from JX Nippon Mining & Metals, a metal unit of JX. Caserones changed its accounting year last year. Its output for 15 months through March 2016 came to 63,200 tonnes.
JX aims to more than double Caserones’ output to 137,000 tonnes in the year to March 2017, nearing its original target of 150,000 tonnes a year, the spokesman said.
“We are trying to map out an action plan with a consultant to help Caserones stabilize its operation at full capacity, cut cost and gain higher copper content,” the spokesman said.
It is aiming for the plan to be finalized by the end of July.
Caserones booked a 28 billion yen ($258 million) loss for the year just ended, and it is expected to post a 17 billion yen loss this financial year, the spokesman said.
“But that does not include potential contribution from the action plan. There is a chance the loss will be smaller,” he added.
The Caserones copper mine has struggled with its waste system and other problems in its ramp-up phase. But the spokesman said system was now working properly, and the problems were due in part to lack of experience.
Caserones is 77.37 percent-owned by Pan Pacific Copper, a joint venture between JX and Mitsui Mining & Smelting. Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co holds the remainder. (Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Richard Pullin and Mark Potter)