Latest issue (44 pages) of International Mining Project News available (April 9): Much of the mining talk over the past fortnight has focused on iron ore. Questions over Rio and BHP’s Pilbara operations joint venture have continued to be raised, however the more imminent issue is that of a fundamental change of pricing. The reported settlement of quarterly prices from BHP and Vale with steel mills in Asia has raised more questions than it has answered, however many miners are using this news to benchmark prices and re-evaluate their project’s worth. One such company is IronClad Mining and its Wilcherry Hill project in South Australia (SA). There are also updates from Iron Road’s Central Eyre project and Lincoln Minerals’ Gum Flat project – both in SA, Gindalbie Metals’ Karara project, Atlas Iron’s Wodgina project and Grange Resources’ Southdown project, all in Western Australia. In addition there is production news at Diavik Diamond Mines’ operation in Canada, development news at Coeur d’Alene Mines’ Kensington gold mine in Alaska and expansion news at Xstrata Zinc’s Black Star mine in Australia.Just today Rio Tinto reports it “is currently negotiating contracts with its customers to supply iron ore priced on a quarterly basis.” Sam Walsh, Chief Executive Iron Ore and Australia, said “Rio Tinto’s position reflects the recent structural shift in the iron ore market away from benchmark pricing. It is in line with our recent comments that benchmark pricing only works if it reflects market fundamentals, otherwise the system would need to change.”At Diavik Diamond Mines’ Diavik diamond mine in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories production has commenced from its new underground mine. The mine, a joint venture between Rio Tinto (60%) and Harry Winston Diamond Corp (40%), has been operating as an open-pit since 2003. The transition to underground has always been part of its 16-22 year mine plan. It currently comprises three diamond bearing kimberlite pipes that will be mined using open pit and underground mining methods. Underground operations will steadily increase as the open pits are depleted and by 2012, Diavik is expected to be a 100% underground mine. A fourth pipe, the A21 pipe, is being reviewed to determine the viability of mining. The underground operation will extend the life of the Diavik mine past 2020. A few days earlier, the company reported its 2010 winter road resupply was completed safely and successfully on March 21.IronClad Mining and Trafford Resources, the joint venture partners in the Wilcherry Hill iron ore project, say that the increase in iron ore prices agreed between BHP and major Chinese steel mills last week could increase its prefeasibility study estimated margin of around A$30/t to a margin in the order of A$50/t, significantly adding to the overall value of the project. Wilcherry Hill is expected to begin production of its high quality, low contaminant DSO magnetite late this year.In rare earth developments, Avalon Rare Metals is making good progress on metallurgical process development for the Nechalacho rare earth element (REE) deposit in Thor Lake, Canada. Following the successful development of a flotation process for producing an REE mineral concentrate in 2009, recent work has focused on a hydrometallurgical process to further upgrade the REE into a chemical concentrate. Avalon has now successfully established a hydrometallurgical process, proven numerous times in the laboratory, for extracting the REE from the mineral concentrates, bringing them into solution so that they can be upgraded by SX and precipitated as a chemical (carbonate) concentrate.Xstrata Zinc’s proposed expansion of its Black Star Open Cut (BSOC) mine in Mount Isa will be a A$133 million project which could extend the life of the mine at current production rates by four years to 2016. Xstrata Zinc Australia COO, Brian Hearne, said, if approved, the BSOC ‘Deeps’ project would ensure the mine’s sustainability and maintain current employment levels. A feasibility study into the expansion commenced in 2009 and technical studies are continuing. The BSOC Deeps project would deepen the existing pit and target ore at a depth of 400 m below ground surface level, 100 m below the current design. This is expected to add around 14 Mt of ore to the production profile at a rate of up to 4.6 Mt/y.Coeur d’Alene Mines plans to commence mining operations in July at its Kensington gold mine, resulting in partial first year production of around 50,000 oz of gold. Mild winter weather has allowed construction activities to remain on-schedule and on-budget, with 85% of the tailings line from the mill to the tailings facility now installed. Blasting activities will take place along the Kensington vein this month and a 120 bed man camp is now complete and fully occupied. As of the end of 2008, Kensington had Proven reserves of 180,493 t at 11.87 g/t Au and Probable reserves of 4.8 Mt at 8.1 g/t Au.To receive the full 40+ page report, subscriptions to this service can be registered and paid for on-line (SUBSCRIBE TO IM PROJECT NEWS BUTTON), or contact [email protected] for a free trial copy.