World events bring hope to Cornish mine

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The Independent Online
FOR proof that dramatic global events far from home can trickle down to your own doorstep, look no further than the case of South Crofty tin mine, the unrest in Indonesia, a surging dollar and medical research into Alzheimer's.

Three months after South Crofty, near Redruth in Cornwall, closed with the loss of 240 jobs, hopes are rising that international developments are pushing the price of tin high enough to make the reopening of what was the last tin mine in Europe a viable proposition.

Union leaders from the former mine have seized on a rise of pounds 400 in the price of tin to pounds 3,600 a tonne since the mine was closed, amid predictions the price will continue to rise. When South Crofty closed, the breakeven point was considered pounds 3,100 a tonne.

Three factors are in play. Indonesia is one of the world's largest exporters of tin and has the world's largest mine, supplying 19 per cent of Western consumption. However, the uncertainty over the country's political stability has helped push the price of tin upwards.

A further boost has been given by predictions that the dollar is set to rise against the pound. Because tin is sold in dollars, this would benefit any tin production in the UK.

A long-term hope is the increasing amount of research, mostly in the United States, examining a possible link between aluminium and Alzheimer's, putting pressure on many can manufacturers to switch from aluminium to tin plate. This may give impetus to talks between the mine's managing director David Giddings and prospective buyer Wilf Hughes.

Negotiations are said to be "tortuous" but Mark Kaczmarek, former shop steward at South Crofty, is optimistic. "The talks are progressing faster than they have for several months," he said.

"It stands a very good chance of being saved by what's happening in Indonesia as well as elsewhere. The tin price will continue to rise even when Indonesia sorts itself out."

The mine is believed to have enough tin for 15 years and Mr Kaczmarek called on the Government to help pump out the water that has flooded in since its closure in March. "I know the mine inside out. It's not like a coal mine, there's good Cornish granite holding it up. Apart from a bit of sludge and water at the bottom there's little that needs doing to it."

Thirty people are still employed at the mine on contract work and while others have found casual work at Falmouth docks there is little permanent work for those made redundant.

The mine would look to diversify to protect against any future dip in the price of tin, said Mr Kaczmarek. "We would create electricity via waste oil from Falmouth docks and sell it to the National Grid. That could lower the breakeven price by another pounds 400 a tonne."

The reopening of the mine is supported by the local Kerrier District Council. "We would be extremely pleased if the mine was reopened," said treasurer David Sillifant. "There's something rather special about the mine. It was a huge local employer."

Mr Kaczmarek agreed. "Re-opening the mine will restore a great deal of the pride which was taken away from us on 6 March with the closure," he said.

David Giddings declined to comment on the developments.