March 10, 2010 / 1:42 PM / 9 years ago

Cuba says Sherritt nickel venture at record output

*Sherritt venture at 106 tonnes mixed sulfides per day

*Cuban plant below capacity at 76 tonnes daily

*Output at third plant unknown

HAVANA, March 10 (Reuters) - Canadian mining company Sherritt International’s (S.TO) joint nickel venture in Cuba broke production records in February, while a second plant’s output was 2 percent above plan, official media reported Wednesday.

“The Pedro Soto Alba plant produced 106 tonnes of mineral daily while the Ernesto Che Guevara plant reached 76 tonnes daily,” Holguin province’s television Cristal reported.

The two plants are located in Moa, Holguin province, the home of the industry.

Pedro Soto Alba is a joint venture between state monopoly Cubaniquel and Sherritt International.

The Che Guevara plant is owned by Cubaniquel, as is a third plant in neighboring Nicaro, the Rene Ramos Latourt plant.

At current production rates, the Pedro Soto Alba appeared on track toward output of around 38,000 tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt, while the Che Guevara would weigh in at around 28,000 tonnes, well below its 32,000 tonne capacity.

There was no information on the Rene Ramos Latourt, the oldest plant with a capacity of 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes, which operated below capacity at various times last year.

Cuba’s unrefined nickel plus cobalt production weighed in at 70,100 tonnes last year, according to the government.

Production at the Pedro Soto Alba plant was a record 37,328 tonnes, Sherritt International reported.

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 the two Cubaniquel plants, infrastructure, housing and buildings and swamping the area with torrential rains and a storm surge.

Output had averaged between 74,000 and 75,000 tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt for much of the decade before that storm hit.

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. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by John Picinich)

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