Nyrstar commits to addressing safety and environmental issues as part of modernization of 100-year-old Hobart smelter

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As Nyrstar promises a $285 million upgrade to its Hobart zinc smelter to address safety and environmental concerns at the century-old site, jobs will be lost, according to the union representing workers.

Nyrstar has submitted a development application to Glenorchy City Council and documents to the Environmental Protection Authority for a smelter, or cell, to replace the existing ‘dated’ facility.

It says the proposed facility will produce up to 300,000 tonnes per year of cathodic zinc.

The news comes after Nyrstar – a Singapore-based subsidiary of Trafigura – announced that its operations at Auby in France would be placed under surveillance and maintenance.

In its documentation, Nyrstar said the existing Hobart airframe had undergone “little change” since it was built in 1916.

“The facility is deteriorating with age and lacks the efficiency of modern cell homes,” the documents state.

“The existing cell house also presents a range of environmental, health and safety, economic and social challenges that affect the long-term viability of the operation.”

These challenges include significant soil and groundwater contamination below the existing zinc, cadmium, mercury and lead cell.

“Serious” concerns about installation

The Australian Workers Union has long raised safety concerns about the site, including the risk of electrocution, acid burns and exposure to hazardous fumes.

Tasmania branch assistant secretary Robert Flanagan said building a new “jumbo” cell would lead to a much safer workplace.

“The safer workplace, better environmental outcomes…should be a plus for the site and the wider community,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said there would be an unknown number of job losses, but the upgrade would ensure the long-term viability of the site.

He said around 80 people work in the existing cellular cell, but advanced technology would mean fewer would be needed in the new facility.

Environmental documents indicate capital expenditure for the project is expected to be $285 million, with a construction workforce of 200 at its peak.

Around 80 people are currently working in the existing cell house in Hobart.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Meanwhile, the state government would not say whether Nyrstar had requested or been promised financial support for the upgrades.

When asked on Monday, Government Minister Michael Ferguson said he was not prepared to discuss whether there had been a request for financial aid.

“That would be a question for the state’s growth minister,” he said.

A spokesman later said the government was “closely engaged with Nyrstar because of the smelter’s importance to the state”.

Nyrstar documentation indicates that the project would require TasNetworks to upgrade its Risdon substation.

He said details on approvals, timing, costs and job impacts were yet to be determined.

TasNetworks has confirmed that it is in talks with Nyrstar about the project and the potential upgrade.

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