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Whyalla Steelworks restart a step closer

The Whyalla Steelworks is closer to firing up again after repairs to a crack in the blast furnace.

May 21, 2024, updated May 21, 2024
The Whyalla Steelworks producing steel in February 2024. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The Whyalla Steelworks producing steel in February 2024. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

In a letter dated May 17 and published on Monday, Whyalla Steelworks managing director Tony Swiericzuk said repairs to the blast furnace’s external shell were “safely completed ahead of our original schedule”.

“The operations team now need seven to eight days to reinstate infrastructure that was removed to undertake the shell repair, conduct safety checks, and purge the systems,” Swiericzuk said.

“We plan wind-on recommencement of the blast recovery around 25th May to rebuild thermal stability in a smaller Blast Furnace operating zone initially.

“The successful earlier than anticipated repair to the shell would not have been possible without the hard work and expertise of the team undertaking the recovery.”

The steelworks, owned by British industrialist Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, has not produced steel for more than eight weeks after the blast furnace went too cold during a two-day maintenance shutdown in mid-March.

During attempts to bring the blast furnace back up to temperature, there was an uncontrolled breakout of iron which damaged the furnace’s external shell – setting back the restart timeline from May to June.

Australian Workers Union organiser Shane Karger said patching work to the external shell went “really well”.

“It’s an important step but it is only a step on the path to getting everything back to normal,” he said.

“We’ve got it together a couple of days quicker than planned but you’re still looking at around the second half of June towards the end of June (to restart steel production).”

Whyalla Steelworks

The Whyalla Steelworks. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The May 25 date to put heat back in the furnace is slightly earlier than the company’s previous May 26 to May 29 estimate.

Once the blast furnace has heat again, the workers will need to reconnect the furnace to the main taphole which takes liquid iron to the refinery. The furnace is currently connected to a smaller capacity emergency taphole.

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Karger told InDaily last week that GFG does not expect to get “useable metal” out of the blast furnace until the end of June.

Other parts of the steelworks will then have to be restarted once the blast furnace is fully operational. This includes the basic oxygen ironmaking furnace where molten iron is refined into steel and the slab and boom caster where the steel is cast.

“We just need everything to go as well as the patch did – it’d be nice to have some luck for a change,” Karger said.

Many workers at the steelworks, Whyalla’s biggest employer, have been forced to take a 30 per cent pay cut while GFG deals with the shutdown of steel production.

More than 1000 people are directly employed by the manufacturing plant, which is Australia’s only manufacturer of long steel products.

The plant is also one of South Australia’s biggest carbon polluters, with GFG revealing last week that its plans to decarbonise the plant have been set back by around two years.

The company has ordered a $500 million electric arc furnace from Italian manufacturer Danieli and originally said it would be constructed by 2025. That has now been pushed back to 2027.

Energy and Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis met with Gupta and Danieli in Europe last week to check progress on the new furnace, which is being purchased with $113 million in state and federal government support.

“I have told Mr Gupta and GFG that I think South Australians in general have had enough of the big reveals, have had enough of the big talk,” he said.

“It’s time for both of us to get our heads down and bum up and get on with it.

“This is very important to South Australia and the nation.”

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