Codelco eyes new ore body to keep Chuquicamata going during transition
SANTIAGO, April 14 (Reuters) - World no. 1 copper producer Codelco has identified mineral resources at its Chuquicamata project that it hopes will keep production flowing during a time of transition for the century-old mine, chief executive Nelson Pizarro said on Tuesday.
The state-run copper miner has a $4.2 billion investment plan to transform the open pit 'Chuqui' over the next few years into an underground operation that should extend the life of the mine.
But the transformation is costly and complex, and will likely lead to lay-offs as the open pit becomes unprofitable.
Pizarro has been consulting with workers on ways to make the transition less painful, and said that together they would propose to the board next week a plan to exploit a fresh ore body of "good quality" as a plan B in case the transition process threatened production.
"What we are developing is an alternative to feed our concentrator should there be an eventual delay in the Chuqui underground project," he told journalists on the sidelines of the CESCO/CRU world copper conference in Santiago.
The ore body contained some 30 million tonnes of mineral with a net value of up to $400 million, he added.
The Chuqui transformation plan is part of an ambitious wider investment plan intended at shoring up Codelco's production as ore grades diminish and costs rise.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien Editing by W Simon)
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