BHP and Vale have confirmed their joint venture Samarco iron ore business has restarted operations in Brazil, more than five years after the failure of the Fundão dam led to its suspension.
Samarco’s gradual restart of operations incorporates concentrator 3 at the Germano complex in Minas Gerais and pelletising plant 4 at Ubu in Espírito Santo, as well as a new system of tailings disposal combining a confined pit and tailings filtering system for dry stacking, BHP said.
With the new filtration process, Samarco expects to be able to substantially dewater sand tailings, which represent 80% of total tailings by volume, and safely stack these filtered sand tailings in piles, Vale said. The remaining 20% of tailings are planned to be deposited in the Alegria Sul pit, a bedrock self-contained structure. Additionally, Samarco is progressing in the decommissioning of the Germano tailings dam to improve safety standards.
“Independent tests have been carried out on Samarco’s preparations for a safe restart of operations,” BHP added.
Samarco expects initially to produce around 7-8 Mt/y of iron ore pellets from the use of one of three concentrators to beneficiate iron ore from the Germano complex and one of four pellet plants in the Ubu complex, representing 26% of Samarco’s productive capacity.
Vale explained: “The integrated restart of operations occurs after an extensive commissioning test, ensuring a safe resumption after five years.”
Following the Corrective Operation Licence received in October 2019, Samarco expects to be able to restart a second concentrator in around five years to reach a range of production of some 14-16 Mt/y. The restart of the third concentrator could happen in around nine years, Vale said, when Samarco expects to reach a production volume of around 22-24 Mt/y.
The extensive work undertaken by the Renova Foundation, a collaboration between Vale, BHP Billiton Brasil Ltda and Samarco, to remediate and compensate for the damages of the failure of the Fundão dam in November 2015 continues, BHP said. The foundation is responsible for carrying out programs to repair the social and environmental impacts.
By November 2020, Renova had spent approximately $2.1 billion on its remediation and compensation programs. By November 2020, around $620 million had been paid in indemnities and emergency financial aid to approximately 325,000 people.