Vale Halts Ore Milling at Voisey’s Bay After Leak

Vale SA, the world’s largest iron- ore miner, said a tailings leak at its Voisey’s Bay nickel complex in Canada has forced the shutdown of its ore-milling operation.

The mill has been idled since Jan. 22 when the leak was discovered, Bob Carter, a spokesman for Vale in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, said today.

“At this juncture I do not see the leak having any effect on shipments of concentrate,” Carter said in a telephone interview. The mill will resume operations after the repaired leak has been tested. He declined to comment on how long that may take, or the mill’s production capacity.

Nickel concentrate from the Voisey’s Bay complex is transported by ship to Quebec City, where it’s moved by train to company smelters in Sudbury, Ontario, and Thompson, Manitoba, Carter said.

Seaborne shipments of nickel concentrate during the winter are limited by agreements between Vale and the province’s native Inuit people to minimize the breaking up of sea ice, he said.

The leak, which contaminated the complex’s potable water system, was discovered on the afternoon of Jan. 22 and traced to a faulty valve, Carter said.

“That’s why we’ve asked people at the site to use bottled water,” he said. The tailings are composed of 15 percent solid waste, including iron, sulfur and lime, and the remainder is water, Carter said. The investigation into the leak has been hampered by a winter blizzard, he said.

Vale acquired Voisey’s Bay when it bought Canadian nickel miner Inco Ltd. for C$19.4 billion ($19.5 billion) in January 2007. Some unionized workers have been on strike at the complex since Aug. 1, 2009, and operations are being run with a combination of union and replacement workers, company and union spokesmen said this month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Donville in Vancouver at cjdonville@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Casey at scasey@bloomberg.net.

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