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MEI Online: Plant Operation News: Australasia: February 8th 2010


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:: Palmer's Nickel Plant Stages Turnaround

A major nickel plant bought by Australia's richest man Clive Palmer last year has staged a remarkable turnaround, its operators say.

The world's biggest miner BHP Billiton in July 2009 sold the loss-making Yabulu nickel refinery in Townsville to companies controlled by Mr Palmer.

The sale came after BHP reviewed its nickel mining operations and the plant, which is capable of producing around 30,000 tonnes a year and employed 950 staff.

Queensland Nickel general manager Trefor Flood told AAP staff morale had been low and the business was losing about $40 million a month in January 2009, due to falling nickel prices during the global recession and poor management.

Staff numbers had recovered to about 750 - compared to 520 last year - and the company was making a profit, Mr Flood said, declining to elaborate on the figures.

He said Mr Palmer had made the turnaround possible by giving many dedicated employees the chance to show the refinery could ride out the storm.

Kevin Pery, principal processing engineer, said workers were ripping off the BHP Billiton insignias on their work shirts and yelling "Goodbye Big Australian" as Mr Palmer took over the business last year.

Mr Flood said Mr Palmer had made it clear to every worker he was approachable and wanted the plant to succeed.

"Clive from the get-go told every person that we would not take any money - we would put everything we make back into the plant and minimise capital spending and costs for the next two years," Mr Flood said.

"And we will have a reserve behind us if we have negative nickel prices."

He said the plant was well on track to produce more nickel and cobalt this year than originally forecast.




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