Problems are minor, says alumina plant

THE Comalco Alumina Refinery is having some 'relatively minor issues,' but nothing more than expected, according to the company.

Despite The Observer receiving calls in recent weeks from Comalco workers claiming the plant was having major process problems, they were not accurate, the company said.

The rumours appeared to be quantified with the recent release of the Rio Tinto quarterly report, which showed production from the refinery had fallen.

According to the report, production during the third quarter of 2005 was 191,000 tonnes, a 37,000 tonne reduction from the previous quarter.

Since it began producing in the fourth quarter of 2004, the plant saw a steady increase in production, with the fall during the last quarter the only one to date.

The Rio Tinto report said the drop in production was due to a maintenance shut-down being brought forward.

However, a spokesperson said the fall in production was a result of the ramping-up period, rather than any problems with the process.

'It's the ramp-up period, we've said all along that the ramp-up for stage one is 24 months and we're on track to achieve nameplate (capacity) by then,' the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said there had been some minor issues, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The Observer has also been told by Comalco employees that the likelihood of stage two going ahead depended on the company solving its current issues with stage one.

'That's consistent with what we've said all along, we need to get stage one up and running before we look at stage two,' the Comalco spokesperson said.

However, the spokesperson said no decision had yet been made. A small team was still working on stage two.

The spokesperson said he had also not heard anything about rumours that workers had been borrowed from other local plants to help combat problems at the refinery.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it had been assisting Comalco with its process issues.

'The company has worked with EPA to iron out some relatively minor issues related to stage one operations,' an EPA spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the issues were not related to off-site environmental problems.

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