Shaft construction activity is under way as part of Codelco’s $4 billion-plus program to establish a block cave mining operation under its huge Chuquicamata open pit in northern Chile.Shaft construction activity is under way as part of Codelco’s $4 billion-plus program to establish a block cave mining operation under its huge Chuquicamata open pit in northern Chile.

Codelco’s board of directors has approved a project-execution budget of $3.3 billion for development of a block cave mine under the current Chuquicamata open pit in northern Chile. The new budget is in addition to $894 million that has been invested to date in early works for the project. Underground operations are planned to begin in 2019 and will ramp up to production of 320,000 mt/y of copper and 15,000 mt/y of molybdenum in concentrates.

Chuquicamata is the world’s largest open-pit mine and has been in production for nearly 100 years. Over the past 10 years, the mine has been dealing with lower grades, increasing costs and lower production. Codelco anticipates that the transition to underground mining will extend the mine’s life by 40 years.

Construction of the Chuquicamata underground mine will require driving approximately 180 km of tunnels for mine access and egress. By the time mine life ends in about 2060, more than 1,000 m of tunnels will have been opened.

During the construction period, the Chuquicamata underground project will generate about 6,000 direct jobs and another 18,000 indirect jobs.

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