Maputo — Mozambique's production and exports of aluminium will be lower than hoped this year, thanks to electricity shortages in South Africa.
Raitt Marshall, managing director of the MOZAL aluminium smelter on the outskirts of Maputo, confirmed on Tuesday that this year would see a reduction in exports, but did not put a figure on this.
Speaking at the latest of MOZAL's six monthly meetings with interested members of the public, Marshall said that in late January this year, MOZAL received instructions to reduce its electricity consumption by 10 per cent (normal consumption at the smelter is around 950 megawatts, making MOZAL far and away the largest consumer of electricity in Mozambique).
The power for MOZAL comes from MOTRACO, a company formed by the South African, Mozambican and Swazi electricity companies, Eskom, EDM and SEB - but MOTRACO draws its power from Eskom. Thanks to chromic under-investment in new plant, Eskom is no longer able to meet the demand from all its clients, and so rolling power cuts hit South Africa early this year.
Eskom told its main industrial customers to cut their use of power, and the aluminium smelters in which BHP-Billiton is the major shareholder, were no exception. Marshall said that all three of the smelters (Bayside and Hillside in the South African port of Richards Bay, and MOZAL in Maputo) had to take out of commission several of the furnaces (known as "pots"), where alumina is reduced to aluminium by electrolysis.
To achieve the required 10 per cent cut in January, MOZAL was obliged to switch off 47 of its 500 pots. Subsequent negotiations with Eskom led to a concentration of pot closures in the oldest smelter (Bayside), so that more power could be spared for the more modern smelters at Hillside and MOZAL.
MOZAL is braced for further disruption. Marshall said the company has been told by Eskom that it will be five years before the power supplies are normalized.
MOZAL officials told the meeting that the company continues to meet high environmental and safety standards. The main pollutant emitted by aluminium smelters is fluoride. The World Bank sets the maximum acceptable figure for fluoride emissions into the atmosphere at one kilo of fluoride per tonne of aluminium produced.
Figures provided by health, safety and environmental specialist Ana Lobo show that in most months MOZAL emits less than half a kilo of fluoride per tonne of aluminium. In 2001 the figure was 0.68 kilos, falling to 0.61 in 2002, 0.46 in 2003 and 0.39 in 2004.
This year the figures have risen somewhat (which Lobo attributes to the lower production of aluminium), but are still well within safety levels, Thus in March and April, the smelter emitted 0.45 kilos of fluoride per tonne of aluminium, a figure which climbed to 0.52 kilos in May.
A retention lake prevents fluoride from being washed into the nearby Matola river. The water is only released from the lake after tests show that the fluoride content is within safety levels. MOZAL specialists also regularly monitor the quality of the water in the river itself.
Lobo stressed that MOZAL knew of no impact on human health of its activities. "We work to ensure that this does not happen", she said.
MOZAL claims that it provides an extremely safe working environment, with very few of its workers suffering "classified injuries" (a classified injury is one which prevents the person concerned from working for at least a day). The Classified Injury Frequency Rate (CIFR) at MOZAL fell from 3.1 to 1.03 per million working hours between 2004 and 2007. The latest figure, for the 12 months prior to May 2008 is 1.1 classified injuries per million working hours,
There was an even sharper decline in the Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate (TRIFR), an indicator that deals with any injury, however minor, that causes lost time or medical treatment, even if the worker concerned is back on the job within a few minutes. This rate fell from 10.1 to 1.23 per million working hours between 2004 and 2007. However, this year it has risen somewhat, and stood at 2.65 per million working hours in the 12 months prior to May.
The MOZAL slogan for its safety and environmental work is "Zero Damage". Marshall admitted that this is a target that can never be reached. "There is no perfection at MOZAL", he said, "but that will not stop us aiming at perfection".