Norilsk eyes SA platinum sector

2012-02-07 15:37

Cape Town - Russia's Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest producer of nickel and palladium, is looking at platinum mine acquisitions in South Africa to boost its PGM output over the next decade, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Norilsk Nickel is already in South Africa, which accounts for about three quarters of the world's platinum output, where it has a 50/50 joint venture in Nkomati nickel mine with African Rainbow Minerals [JSE:ARM].

The mine, about 300km east of Johannesburg, produces by-products of copper, cobalt, PGMs and chrome.

"There are some potential projects here ... and we under current due diligence of some projects in South Africa for maybe a prospective acquisition deal here," Roman Panov, Norilsk's director of international production assets told Reuters on the sidelines of a mining conference.

"We hope that the deals can be for 2012 or 2013. It is too early to make an announcement right now, but we are extensively working this market. It is different companies in the PGM group, but primarily platinum," he said.

As part of a broader drive to diversify its commodity and regional presence, Panov said Norilsk was also eyeing projects in mineral-rich southern African countries.

"We are looking at potential projects in Zimbabwe, DRC, Zambia and Botswana, which are potential regions for further development," he said.

Platinum production in South Africa is dominated by Anglo American's platinum unit, Impala Platinum and Aquarius Platinum.

However, output is likely to end up lower than forecast this year due to increasing labour and safety stoppages that have dampened share prices and boosted costs.

Panov said the potential targets were both greenfields and brownfield mines, although Norilsk was focusing on the quality and quantity of reserves held underground.

He said should Norilsk's PGM strategy be realised, it could emerge as a top three producer globally within a decade.

Panov also said Norilsk was granted six exploration licences in the Tati region, and expected to finalise an exploration campaign at the end of next year as it tried to extend the life-of-mine at Tati, which is expected to be depleted in 2015.

Norilsk already operates Tati Nickel in Botswana, which includes the Phoenix open pit and Selkirk underground nickel mine, with 2012 production seen 10% up from last year's 11 000 tonnes output.