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Russian Mining Giant Nornickel, China Copper ‘in Smelter Talks’

Miner considering JV and a copper smelting base in China, as many western consumers will no longer buy metal of Russian origin since Moscow invaded Ukraine


The logo of Russian miner Nornickel is seen at SPIEF 2017 in St Petersburg (Reuters).

 

Russian mining giant Nornickel is reportedly in talks with China Copper on setting up a smelter in China.

Sources say it involves a joint venture that would shift Nornickel’s entire copper smelting base to China, where most of its copper is consumed.

And if the move goes ahead, it would mark Russia’s first uprooting of a domestic plant since the US and Britain banned metal exchanges from accepting new aluminium, copper and nickel produced by Russia.

 

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Nornickel said in April it planned to close its Arctic facility and build a new plant in China with an unnamed partner.

Executives at China Copper, owned by the world’s largest aluminium producer Chinalco, flew to Moscow in June to discuss a possible joint venture, one of the sources said, adding that details of the structure and investment are still under discussion.

Nornickel declined to comment. Chinalco and China Copper did not respond to requests for comment via email and phone.

Sites being considered in China include Fangchenggang and Qinzhou in the Guangxi region, the two sources said, with another source saying Qingdao in Shandong province was also possible.

A decision on a joint venture will be made over the next few months, a fifth source said, adding that Nornickel’s Chinese output is likely to be consumed domestically.

The new facility will have capacity to produce 450,000 tonnes of copper annually, two of the sources said, amounting to around 2% of global mined supplies estimated at around 22 million metric tons this year.

Nornickel, which according to its annual report produced 425,400 tonnes of refined copper last year, processed all of its concentrates in 2023 at the Arctic plant, its only operation producing finished copper suitable for delivery to exchanges.

 

Ukraine war blocking sales of firm’s metals

Its relocation plan came shortly after the London Metal Exchange, the world’s largest and oldest metals forum, announced new restrictions on its product sales in April.

Nornickel and its metal are not under US or European sanctions, but many western consumers will no longer buy metal of Russian origin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Much of the company’s metal had been stored on the LME, with more than 40% of LME-stored copper inventory produced in Russia as of the end of May, data showed.

Under new rules, LME storage is no longer available for Russian copper produced after April 13.

China Copper is the only company interested in forming a joint venture with Nornickel so far, the sources said, as its parent Chinalco is directly managed by China’s central government and is authorised to make key decisions involving foreign parties.

Nornickel approached other Chinese state-owned copper producers, but many come under the umbrella of provincial governments and consider working with a foreign firm risky without the blessing of central government.

The company said in its April statement that the plant should be constructed by mid-2027, and will be supplied by Nornickel with about 2 million tons of copper concentrate annually.

Last year, China consumed more than half of the world’s output of copper, used in the power and construction industries.

There has been rising concern about the global supply of copper, which is increasingly used in the fast-growing renewable energy and electric vehicle sectors.

 

  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.

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