Vale issues update on momentous year in Thompson mining history

Vale Manitoba Operations’ 2017-18 update entitled “A New Era” comes at a time when the mining company has ceased smelting and refining operations in Thompson after nearly 60 years of integrated nickel production.

The first Bessemer nickel matte was produced in the smelter on Sept. 10, 1960 and the first official production of nickel cathodes from the refinery occurred on March 25, 1961. The last anodes were poured in the smelter on July 8 of this year and the last nickel cathode was pulled on July 16. By that time, the new concentrate load-out facility was already complete, with the first shipment of concentrate having been loaded onto a truck bound for Sudbury June 24.

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Over their lifetimes, the smelter and refinery produced nearly than 2.5 million tonnes of electro-nickel.

“The decision in 2010 to decommission the smelter and refinery gave plenty of time for our people, the company and
the City of Thompson to prepare,” said a message from North Atlantic and Asia refineries director Ricus Grimbeek in the report. “Still, this transition has been an emotional time for our employees and the broader community of Thompson. I want to sincerely thank all of our people who, over the years, have made significant contributions to our smelting and refining operations in Thompson. We will pursue growth in Thompson by considering previously deferred studies and by expanding our exploration, development and capital investment in the near term. “

New ventures launched in the past year include a leadership training program in association with United Steelworkers Local 6166, with two new roles created to provided training and coaching on investigations and reporting. The mines training process also began a major overhaul and a five-year mental health strategy is being developed, with goals including the development of a curriculum for workplace wellness training and continued support for local mental health events like the Defeat Depression walk.

Vale noted that more than 90 per cent of recyclable and sellable waste like cardboard, paper and scrap metal did not end up in the landfill this year and that there has been 100 per cent compliance with government regulations regarding water flowing from the tailings management area into the Burntwood River.

The smelter stack was due to be capped in September. With operations now limited to mining and milling only, slurry from the mill’s flotation circuit is now dewatered in a cone-shaped vat known as a thickener before being sent to a 12-metre tall filter press that squeezes out water until the moisture content is reduced to less than 8.5 per cent so front-end loaders can pile it into trucks bound for Ontario.

In addition to airborne electro-magnetic surveys, Vale is also exploring in its existing mines, particularly at the north end of T-3 and will undertake a drilling program to advance extensions of known deposits and look for new deposits north and south of their mines.

The update also highlighted community contributions, noting that 100 of 800 Manitoba Games volunteers in Thompson in March were Vale employees and that 20 of the athletes were children of employees. Vale Manitoba Operations also contributed $50,000 to swimming pool upgrades, including lockers and locker rooms, as well as the installation of bleachers.

Three new scholarships were established this year in honour of Indigenous people who contributed to the establishment of Inco’s Thompson operation back in the days of discovery, including the Henry Cook Award, the James Spence Award and the Robert “Snowshoe” Parenteau Award. These additions make the total number of such scholarships four when combined with the Henry Linklater Scholarship that was established in 2016.

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