Chile's Codelco says considering closure of coastal copper smelter

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, is seen at their headquarters in downtown Santiago, Chile March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said on Monday that it is evaluating the closure of its Ventanas copper smelter in a polluted coastal region.

Media have reported that President Sebastian Pinera would announce the closure of the facility during the upcoming COP25 climate change conference, which will take place in capital Santiago in December.

Pinera has said he plans to use COP25 as a platform to urge countries to adopt more ambitious commitments to cut carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The Ventanas smelter has been the target of criticism from social and environmental groups that accuse it of contributing to heavy pollution in the Quintero area on the central coast of the country.

“The old and low-scale Ventanas facilities are not very competitive and do not offer better prospects in the medium term, so the losses in recent years [of $50 million annually] are projected to continue,” the company said in its statement, adding that the facility’s refinery would continue to operate.

Codelco said a potential closure would require a legal modification and would need to be a planned process that seeks to minimize impact on workers and the surrounding communities.

Closing the smelter would require an investment of $150 million, Codelco said.

Environmental activists have long labeled the town of Quintero and its surroundings a “sacrifice zone” for the successive pollution episodes that have caused public health emergencies.

The coastal port city is also home to coal-burning power plants, some of which operate very near to residential areas.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall