* Heavy rain, flooding expected in nickel region
* Minerals stockpiled for continuous operations
HAVANA, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Hurricane Tomas is not expected to significantly impact Cuban nickel production as it passes near the heart of the industry in eastern Holguin province this afternoon, state-run media said on Friday.
“All necessary measures have been taken by the companies of the nickel industry to insure the production process is not effected,” Television Cristal reported from Moa Holguin, where two of the countries three nickel processing plants are located.
Tomas is expected to dump heavy rains on the area over the next 24 hours, causing local flooding.
“The raw materials are guaranteed, in particular inventories of minerals for continuous production,” Television Cristal said.
Cuba produces around 70,000 tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt per year and output appears on track in 2010 to reach that figure.
Canadian mining company Sherritt International’s (S.TO) operates a nickel processing venture in Moa.
There are also two plants in the area owned by the government.
The Caribbean island is the world’s sixth largest nickel producers and supplies 10 percent of the world’s cobalt, according to the Basic Industry Ministry.
Hurricane Ike, a Category 3 storm, hit Cuba in September 2008 at Holguin’s northern coast, where the nickel industry’s three processing plants are located, damaging plants, infrastructure, housing and buildings and swamping the area with torrential rains and a storm surge.
Nickel is essential in the production of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys. Cobalt is critical in production of super alloys used for such products as aircraft engines.
Cuban nickel is considered to be Class II, with an average 90 percent nickel content.
Cuba’s National Minerals Resource Center reported that eastern Holguin province accounted for more than 30 percent of the world’s known nickel reserves, with lesser reserves in other parts of the country. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)