* Junior minister says no reason why open-pit mining at
Grasberg can't resume
* Open-pit mining accounts for about 140,000 T of ore a day
* Union official says no mining activity until all probes
By Fergus Jensen
JAKARTA, May 27 Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold
Inc's Indonesian unit should be able to restart open-pit
mining operations at its remote Papua copper mine soon, a junior
mining minister said, after a tunnel collapse that killed 28
Despite the government assurance, it was not clear when
operations will begin. While maintenance activities at the
open-pit mine have resumed, the Freeport workers' union has
called for continued suspension of production until all
investigations into the disaster are complete.
Arizona-based Freeport suspended operations at the world's
No. 2 copper mine on May 15 a day after a training area in a
tunnel, away from its main operations, caved in on 38 workers,
in one of Indonesia's worst mining disasters.
Deputy Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Susilo Siswo
Utomo told reporters on Monday the Grasberg mine complex's
open-pit operations, accounting for about two-thirds of its
copper output, would be able to restart in the immediate future
once a safety audit had been completed.
A separate government investigation into the collapse should
end in one or two months, Susilo said, adding that the probe
should not interfere with a resumption of production at the
Freeport mine since the two were in different areas.
"This is a stoppage for several days in solidarity, and to
carry out an inspection. Once it's cleared by the monitoring
inspectors, they can operate again," he added.
Freeport Indonesia is conducting its own probe into the
collapse using international experts. It is estimated that the
closure is costing the company about $15 million a day in lost
STRAINED LABOUR RELATIONS?
The labour union, though, has been vocal about not rushing
"The union welcomes the management's decision to resume
maintenance activities in Grasberg open-pit mining, but not for
production activities," Papua-based union leader Virgo Solossa
told Reuters on Monday, pointing out that the open-pit mine also
used underground tunnels to transport ore.
Some industry analysts say the mine could face a prolonged
closure and further strain relations between Freeport and trade
unions after a three-month strike there in late 2011.
Freeport itself has said any restarting of operations would
depend on the outcome of underground safety inspections being
carried out by the energy and mineral resources ministry.
Late last week, Freeport Chief Executive Richard Adkerson
said the company was prepared to restart production relatively
quickly and had taken the first steps of getting workers back
and having training briefings.
The company was not immediately able to comment on the
matter when contacted on Monday.
The Grasberg mine normally produces around 220,000 tonnes of
concentrated ore a day, with around 140,000 tonnes coming from
open-pit mining and 80,000 tonnes from underground operations.