Whyalla Steelworks blast furnace restarted

The resumption of steel production at Whyalla Steelworks is a step closer after the blast furnace began pouring hot metal again, with owner Sanjeev Gupta flying in to check progress.

May 28, 2024, updated May 28, 2024
Metal flowing through the recently restarted blast furnace at the Whyalla Steelworks. Photo: GFG Alliance/supplied

Metal flowing through the recently restarted blast furnace at the Whyalla Steelworks. Photo: GFG Alliance/supplied

British industrialist Gupta, executive chairman of the steelworks’ operator GFG Alliance, visited Whyalla over the weekend to get an update on efforts to restart steel production at the stricken plant.

The steelworks’ furnace has not poured molten iron since mid-March when it went too cold during a two-day maintenance shutdown.

The furnace’s external shell was then damaged during attempts to bring it back up to temperature, setting back the restart timeline from May to June. The shell was repaired earlier this month.

In a statement released on Monday, Gupta said there has been “concrete progress” on restarting steel production with the blast furnace pouring hot metal again.

“I want to reassure our people and the Whyalla community that we are committed to getting our plant back to normal production as soon as possible,” Gupta said.

“The repair of the blast furnace shell has been a slow and precise exercise. It could not be rushed. Our people’s safety always comes first.

“The furnace’s shell repair is completed and hot metal is flowing from the emergency tap hole.

Whyalla Steelworks blast furnace operating

The Whyalla Steelworks’ blast furnace has been restarted. Photo: GFG Alliance/supplied

“This is an important milestone, and I have every confidence our expert team will soon bring our high-quality steel making back to normal production.”

The steelworkers now 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, which is not producing useable metal.

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.

Whyalla Steelworks restart
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In a separate video recorded message, Gupta indicated steel production would restart in June and hot metal was flowing out of the emergency taphole “better than expected”.

“Each day will give us a better idea, but the expectation now is that we will be back to fully normal – i.e. sending hot metal to the steel plant – within June,” he said.

Energy and Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis said he met with Gupta on Sunday and Monday where they had a “full and frank exchange of ideas”.

He said the state government had independently verified GFG’s progress on restarting the blast furnace and he was “supremely confident” about steel production returning to normal.

“I am a lot more confident now than I was a week ago and a lot more confident than I was a week ago than I was on progress of… return to normal services of the blast furnace,” Koutsantonis said.

“In Whyalla, there are families… whose primary breadwinner is not getting work at the steelworks and that is a town that overwhelmingly relies on the steelworks.

“For us, the urgency of getting the steelworks back up and running is vital.”

There are more than 1000 workers at the Whyalla Steelworks, many of whom have been required to take an effective pay cut of 30 per cent while GFG tries to restart steel production.

Whyalla Mayor Phil Stone said the blast furnace restart has lifted the mood of the city.

“The good thing is that they’ve (GFG) gone out of their way not to stand people down,” Stone said.

“So yes there’s been a reduction in wages, and certainly if you’re one of those that’s going from pay to pay, you’ve got a mortgage, that’s certainly a big impact.

“But all we can certainly hope for now as is it is back on track, and we can see… light at the end of the tunnel.”

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