Nornickel to take another week to halt water inflow at Siberia mines

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Norilsk Nickel said on Tuesday it expects it will be another week before it has an idea of when it can restart two waterlogged mines in Siberia.

Nornickel, the world’s largest palladium producer and a leading nickel producer, partly suspended operations at the Oktyabrsky and Taimyrsky mines on Feb. 24 after it detected subterranean water flowing into one of them.

The $48 billion company has faced criticism over environmental issues and production safety after a major fuel leak at its power plant near the Arctic city of Norilsk and a series of smaller incidents over the past year.

“By now, one of the mine workings has been filled with hardening backfill mixture. In the coming week, once the mixture hardens, water valves will be shut and the inflow of groundwater should stop,” Nikolay Utkin, Nornickel senior vice president, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Nornickel previously said it would calculate production losses at the mines, which account for 36% of ore mined by Nornickel in Russia, by Tuesday.

Nornickel can clear the mines of water by dropping concrete into gaps where water had collected, two industry experts told Reuters earlier in March, adding that the timing of the repair would depend on how strong the water inflow was.

The company added that its Norilsk Concentrator was currently fully idled due to repairs after another accident. Three workers died after part of this processing plant collapsed during maintenance in February.

It will partly restore the plant’s work by March 16, it said.

Nornickel could loose 4-5% of its 2021 output if the two mines are suspended for one month, analysts at Sova Capital said in a recent note. The miner previously expected 2021 nickel and palladium production to be flat year on year.

Reporting by Polina Devitt; Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by David Goodman and Susan Fenton