An explosion at Konkola Copper Mines this morning set fire to the Cobalt Recovery Furnace, which is part of the Smelter, causing damage to property, although no casualties have been recorded.

A source at KCM told News Diggers that the Cobalt Recovery Furnace developed a metal leakage from the taphole.

“The main smelter is okay, but there was an explosion at the Cobalt Recovery Furnace. The report we have is that it developed a leakage and molten copper which was coming out mixed with other chemical components, thereby causing an explosion and a fire started. At this stage it is not clear what the damage to equipment is, but that will be ascertained once the area has been down. What is good is that there were no casualties recorded,” said the source.

But KCM provisional liquidator Milingo Lungu downplayed the incident, arguing that the Nchanga Smelter was not on fire, but that it developed a fault, which necessitated the early shutdown initially scheduled for Friday.

In a brief interview, Wednesday, Milingo denied any negligence to the mining facility, explaining that “what looked like a blazing fire” was actually molten copper mixing with water, insisting that no injuries or casualties had been reported at the smelter.

“It was just a fault, we were supposed to have gone on annual shutdown on Friday so there was a fault in the furnace, today (Wednesday), so we decided to go on shutdown two days earlier, but usually that steam, the molten copper mixing with water, the steam comes out so it’s not a fire, it’s expected when they are shutting down. There is nothing like injuries or casualties, we will be circulating pictures just now of how it looks like,” Milingo said.

And in a statement, KCM corporate affairs general manager Eugene Chungu said despite the closure of the furnace, which is expected to last 39 days, operations at all of KCM’s assets would continue to run normally.

“The smelter normally undergoes a major shutdown every two years and, thus, was scheduled for 2018, but was postponed to this year. The shutdown is planned for a duration of 39 days. During this time, all operations at Konkola, Nchanga and Nampundwe Mines will continue to run normally. The Company is committed to ramping up operations at Konkola Underground and Nchanga Underground mines, and stabilize operations across the Company,” stated Chungu.

He added that according to the Smelting and Refining Unit Head, Enock Mponda, the slug material runout happened around 06:00 hours, but was contained as the risk based emergency protocols were employed to ensure no injuries.

“At around 6:00hrs our engineers noticed elevated temperatures near the tapping area prior to the event. As per our risk-based emergency protocols, we ensured that all the people working in the area were evacuated, thus, preventing any injuries. The slug runout was contained within the limited bounded area. Although there is a standby furnace, which we could bring online, we have decided to bring forward the planned shutdown by 48 hours,” read the statement.

Since May 2019 when government took over operations at KCM from parent owners Vedanta Resources through the provisional liquidator, there has been reported cases of looting of mine equipment and two incidences of unexplained fires.

Minority KCM shareholders ZCCM-IH is seeking arbitration in the Zambian court, claiming Vedanta breached the shareholders agreement, but the Indian firm has dragged the Zambian mining investment portfolio to the South African court citing breach of arbitration procedure.

The deadlock in the courts has seen government fail to find a new investor to take over KCM, leaving the country’s biggest mining firm in the hands of a provisional liquidator with minimal mining activities on site.