Safety issues facing Queensland Nickel

A nickel ore ship at Townsville, where (inset) Clive Palmer's Yabulu refinery processes it. Photo: Chris Mackey / Southern Cross Maritime. (Inset: Creative Commons / Benjamin J Macdonald)

A meeting between creditors and administrators of Queensland Nickel has revealed safety issues which could threaten the potential re-opening of the beleaguered refinery business, according to a Fairfax report.

Minutes from a meeting between creditors and FTI Consulting – the administrator appointed by Queensland Nickel last month – were cited by the AFR to include reference to a large backlog of environmental and occupational health and safety issues which would need to be acted on, should the company be kept afloat.

The revelation comes a week after creditors were told anyone attempting to bail out the struggling business would have to absorb cash losses until at least 2017.

A Monday report in the AFR details a number of safety issues which were reportedly presented to creditors.

One major problem, according to the report, relates to the stability of a tailings dam at the Yabulu refinery, near Townsville, which independent consultants have reportedly estimated would cost over $10 million to fix.

“The administrators are currently looking at the options available,” the meeting minutes are quoted as saying.

“However, they acknowledged that any strategy would be expensive.”

Without a fix, closure of the refinery would be a real option, according to the report, which quotes the minutes: “If the administrators deem the site unsafe for work, the refinery will be closed down.”

A pile-up of safety issues would only add to the struggle faced by the refinery, which went into voluntary administration on January 18, days after sacking more than 230 workers, as a result of a slump in global nickel prices.

Creditors heard last week that the refinery produces nickel for roughly US$4.40 a pound, while the market price for nickel is currently below US$4 a pound. According to Fairfax, the refinery business is losing around $50 million per annum in the current market.

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