Chile's Caserones copper project says production start is near
* Caserones seen producing 180,000 tonnes a year * Project's VP says analyzing possible capex rise * Caserones one of Chile's few new copper projects SANTIAGO, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The Caserones copper mine in Chile, owned by JX Nippon Mining and Metals Corp and Mitsui & Co, is poised to start production soon, and construction should be finished by the end of 2013, the project's vice president told Reuters on Wednesday. JX and Mitsui previously said they would start production at the 180,000 tonnes-a-year project in 2013. Caserones is one of the few new copper projects coming online in world No. 1 copper producer Chile. "We're fairly close to starting the first productive process, and from now to the end of next year we'll be ending the major part of the project," Vice President Nelson Pizarro said on the sidelines of a year-end event organized by the Mining Ministry. When asked if Caserones' $3 billion investment could increase, as has happened with many mega mining projects, Pizarro said, "We're analyzing this. We're almost done with engineering, and construction is over half-way done, so it's time to do an update." Steep energy prices, a strong Chilean peso and scarce water supply have pushed up costs for miners in the Andean country. Worldwide, miners have also seen their expenditures spiral, partially due to higher construction and labor costs. Pizarro said Caserones, located in the power-scarce Atacama region, did not have energy problems. "We have a contract signed with an energy provider and when the time comes we'll receive the contracted energy," he said. Chile faces a wave of environmental and social opposition to major energy projects; coal-fired thermoelectric projects and hydropower projects in pristine Patagonia have suffered setbacks in court.