MAC: Mines and Communities

Fears raised over spoilt cyanide containers

Published by MAC on 2003-01-30

Fears raised over spoilt cyanide containers

By Baeau Tai, The National, Papua New Guinea

January 30 2003

Bougainville secessionist leader Francis Ona has raised public fears over the deteriorating cyanide containers at the abandoned Panguna copper mine site, but it appear unlikely such containers exist.

Even if the reports are true, it is clear they would not have been left behind by Bougainville Copper Ltd, the big Rio Tinto subsidiary that mined at Panguna from 1972 to 1989.

Because, according to BCL managing director Peter Taylor, "in all its years of operation the Panguna mine never used cyanide to extract gold".

However, Mr Taylor told The National BCL would be happy to cooperate with independent experts who could be hired to assess potential problems that could emanate from the mine following its sudden shutdown 13 years ago.

Mr Ona recently expressed concern that there were an undisclosed number of containers, which, he believed, contained the deadly chemical, cyanide, which is often used in the extraction of gold.

However, BCL produced a copper concentrate with a high gold content that was shipped overseas for processing and for extraction of gold.

Mr Taylor said: "When BCL was forced to leave Bougainville in 1989 because of the attacks on its property and employees, measures were taken to safely store unused mining and processing consumables.

"However, it was not envisaged the mine site would remain a "no-go" zone for 13 years and therefore BCL cannot comment on the current situation at the mine," Mr Taylor said.

He welcomed reports that Mr Ona was taking measures to ensure people did not enter areas of the mine that he thought might be hazardous.

Between 1972 and the cessation of mining on May 15, 1989, the mine produced copper concentrates that contained an incredible three million tonnes of copper, 306 tons of gold and 784 tons of silver. The production had a value of K5.2 billion which represented approximately 44 per cent of PNG's exports during the period.

BCL's annual report for year ending 31 December 2001 shows that it contributed a total of K1,086 million kina to Government coffers - 62 per cent of the net cash generated by the project.

Other stakeholders that have benefited included the North Solomons provincial government (K75.2 million), landowners (K38.2 million), non-government shareholders (K576.7) million and employees' wages (K575.6 million).

BCL is 53.6 per cent owned by mining giant Rio Tinto with 19.1 per cent held by the PNG Government 27.3 per cent by public shareholders. It is understood the Department of Environment and Conservation is looking into the reported cyanide issue.

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