Gaby Poirier discusses the modernized Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat.

Gaby Poirier discusses the modernized Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat.

Rio Tinto Alcan begins production in modernized Kitimat smelter

Construction continues but the Kitimat smelter has already begun producing its first ingots in the modernized facility.

Rio Tinto Alcan has gleefully boasted that it has produced its first hot metal in the modernized smelter.

The company held a special celebration inside the site’s new cafeteria, dubbed Henning Hall in honour of company executive Paul Henning. The company is hailing the milestone while also noting that they still have work to do to reach the ‘inauguration’, which will be the formal conclusion of all construction work, expecting in 2016.

“We’re near the end,” said RTA Project Director Michel Charron. “We’re completing the journey for constructing the plant.”

Even so, they say the final two per cent of the project will be a long one still.

“The last couple per cent on anything is always the longest ones,” he said.

The smelter will conclude with a final price tag of $4.8 billion.

The workforce, as of July 7, sat at just over one thousand people, but Charron says the workforce will dwindle rapidly by the end of this month and in to September.

On the training side, General Manager of BC Operations Gaby Poirier says they are “far from the end” on concluding worksite training for the new smelter.

“We’ve got about 55 per cent of the training done,” he said, saying the ‘theory’ side of it is well established but it will take the arrival of operational equipment to get the training through the practical phase.

“Practical training will go all over the rest of the year to the ramp up because we’re still running line three and four from the old smelter, so the employees from lines three and four will start to join more next fall while we’re doing the ramp up.”

The modernized smelter will have a production rate of 420,000 tonnes a year, and is powered by the newer AP40 technology, replacing the older söderberg process.

Rio Tinto Alcan says that $684 million was spent through the northern B.C. region and $487 in the Vancouver area.

Deputy Haisla Chief Councillor Taylor Cross, representing his council, congratulated the company on their milestone and pointed to the need for further collaboration with RTA.

Through construction he said the Haisla unemployment went from around 65 per cent down to approximately five.

“Every Haisla Nation member that wanted to work was working,” he said.

The Haisla and the company have a legacy agreement, and Cross said the need continues to have their members in work.

“This project is coming to an end so our unemployment rate is going up again,” he said, in calling for the continuation of their ongoing relationship.

Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth said the modernization will provide economic certainty for a number of decades and that the project has provided the community with valuable knowledge.

“As a result…Kitimat has current experience on the construction of a large industrial project within its boundaries,” he said through a media release.

In another statement, the Kitimat Economic Development Authority says the start up of RTA’s modernized smelter is a “strong signal to other potential investors that Kitimat and the region is now ready for another mega project.”

As the project works towards completion, the on-site construction crew will quickly dwindle. At the moment it sits at just over 1,000 persons, but it will quickly drop from the end of July towards September.

At its peak the project was employing approximately 3,500 people.