A $100 million nickel refinery recovery project would need to address a huge list of potential hazards if it proceeds, according to an independent investigation.
Queensland Nickel’s Palmer Nickel and Cobalt Refinery at Yabulu, 25km north of Townsville faces a string of workplace health and safety issues that must be resolved before it can reopen for production.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) procured engineering company WorleyParsons in 2016 to inspect the refinery and draft a report on its condition. The document revealed structural corrosion and chemical leaks at the premises.
“High levels of chemical residue and leakage had accumulated over several structures and equipment,” the report said according to the ABC. “A general pattern of severe corrosion was observed around those areas exposed to high levels of sulphur … exhibiting extremely severe structural corrosion and concrete cancer.”
WorleyParsons’ investigation also found staircases and handrails were beginning to fall apart while parts of asbestos roof in one of the key building were starting to cave-in, allowing rain to enter and fall on the floor.
WHSQ separately discovered some pipes and structural supports needed to be repaired, and fire clearings to be kept. It also found emergency showers need to be reconnected to the main water supply, fire extinguishers were behind on maintenance for almost two years, and cladding was so loose it could be a potential hazard if a cyclone hits the refinery.
In addition to this, there are also concerns about the structural integrity of the refinery’s concrete stack.
The refinery has already been handed more than 22 improvement notices for significant workplace breaches since 2016 and all have since been rectified, according to a workplace health and safety spokesman at the refinery.
However, WHSQ claims the pipes and structural supports have been repaired but the rest of the breaches still need to be addressed.
Refinery owner and Queensland’s richest man Clive Palmer told the ABC that operators have co-operated with authorities in accordance to workplace laws.
“At all times Queensland Nickel Sales Pty Ltd, the current manager of the refinery, has been compliant with the act and has continued to work with the relevant authorities to ensure that the Refinery is safe and compliant,” Palmer said in the statement.
The site has been in caretaker and maintenance mode since the refinery entered voluntary administration after it financially collapsed back in 2016.