Portion of Zambia’s Nchanga open pit due to collapse “anytime” in next five days

Nchanga, KCM

PART of the Nchanga open pit owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), the Zambian firm that is the subject of a legal dispute between its shareholders, is about to collapse.

Citing Chris Sheppard, CEO of KCM, Reuters said a 350 metre section of the open pit is due to cave in depositing an estimated eight million cubic metres of material. “I must state in no uncertain terms that our priority is to ensure the safety of people first, and also make sure that KCM, public and private property are safe-guarded,” said Sheppard.

KCM is owned by Vedanta Resources and ZCCM-IH, the government controlled mining company. Despite its ownership, Vedanta has not been permitted oversight of the assets in KCM following attempts by the Zambian government to put KCM into liquidation.

The government argues that Vedanta has failed to meet certain obligations in terms of investment. Attempts by Vedanta to broker an agreement in terms of a shareholder dispute mechanism have so far failed. At the same time, the government has tried to sell KCM.

Production was continuing elsewhere except for the at-risk areas which have been shut, a KCM spokesman said. The slough – or caving in of ground – could occur at anytime during the next five days, said Sheppard.

The mine has marked out a 90 metre wide hazard exclusion zone in which the potential collapse is expected to occur. It is “at least” 60 metres away from nearby communities, Reuters quoted Sheppard as saying.

Apart from the Nchanga open pit, KCM also operates the Nchanga and Konkola underground mines, concentrators, a smelter, a tailings leach plant, and a refinery.

Geological changes to an orebody are not uncommon, but Vedanta has expressed concern in the past about its inability to visit facilities in Zambia.

Speaking in May 2019, Vedanta’s former CEO, Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, said he was concerned about the lack of company oversight and maintenance of KCM’s Konkola which would flood in less than an hour if critical pumping was not maintained.

In November of that year, there were reports of a sulphur dioxide leak coming from KCM’s Nchanga smelter acid plant and had resulted in the hospitalisation of KCM employees as well as pupils attending the nearby Nchanga Trust School.