Whyalla Steelworks restart hopes after crucial fix

The Whyalla Steelworks is a step closer to resuming normal production after repairs crossed a crucial milestone.

Jun 25, 2024, updated Jun 26, 2024
GFG Alliance said an “important milestone” was reached in the blast furnace repair process. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

GFG Alliance said an “important milestone” was reached in the blast furnace repair process. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

Steelworks owner GFG Alliance said on Tuesday that the blast furnace was closer to resuming “normal production” after being offline since mid-March due to getting too cold during a two-day maintenance shutdown.

GFG Alliance said the furnace was now reconnected to the main taphole which takes liquid iron to the refinery.

“Hot molten material is flowing from a normal tap hole on the blast furnace at the Whyalla Steelworks, in an important milestone for GFG’s restart operations,” it said.

“The successful connection to a normal tap hole was made at midday on Monday 24th June following previous repeated attempts to move from the emergency tap hole which has been used to evacuate hot molten material.”

GFG Alliance subsidiary LIBERTY Primary Steel and Mining Australia (LPMA) CEO Sandip Biswas said the blast furnace was “anticipated to be brought back on wind in coming days as expert crews continue to work towards bringing the blast furnace back to normal production”.

“The connection with a usual taphole on the blast furnace is a positive and important step on the difficult journey back to high-quality steelmaking,” Biswas said,

“I am grateful to our team and remain confident we will resume normal steel production soon.”

In May, GFG revealed it had suffered a setback in its bid to restart the steelworks after an uncontrolled iron breakout damaged the furnace’s external shell while workers attempted to get the blast furnace back up to temperature.

The shell was eventually repaired, but during the shutdown some workers agreed to move from their 42-hours over seven days shift roster to 7.6 hours a day over five days.

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Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Whyalla organiser Steven McMillan said the loss of weekend and night shifts amounted to a 30 per cent pay cut for some workers.

Whyalla Mayor Phill Stone said around 50 per cent of the steelwork workforce took a 30 per cent pay cut.

In late-May, Gupta visited Whyalla and said there was “concrete progress” on restarting steel production with the furnace shell repaired and hot metal flowing from an emergency tap hole that cannot produce usable metal.

Other parts of the steelworks still 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 Mayor Phill Stone said the update from GFG would “reinstate confidence within Whyalla that a solution to rectify the problem is achievable and under way”.

“But unfortunately it is a much longer and slower process than previously expected,” Stone said.

“Our continuing thoughts are with the workforce performing the incredible task of bringing the blast furnace back into production, and those who are suffering financially during the down time.”

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