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BHP Billiton Chief Executive Officer, Chip Goodyear today officially opened the Spence copper cathode operation, which is in the northern region of Chile.

The mine site, which is located in the Antofagasta Region, close to the community of Sierra Gorda, commenced production in December 2006. When it reaches its design capacity in the third quarter of calendar year 2007, it will produce 200,000 tonnes of copper cathode per year.

BHP Billiton President Base Metals, Diego Hernandez said Spence was the first greenfield large-scale mining project to be developed in Chile in six years and the first large SX-EW (solvent extraction and electro-winning) project constructed globally this decade.

"This is an outstanding asset that incorporates global best operating practice and the latest technology", Mr Hernández said.

He said that at a capital cost of approximately US$1 billion, the project’s construction and operation was a credit to Chile. 90 per cent of the engineering was undertaken in Chile, and 99% of the management team is Chilean nationals. Safety during the construction period was excellent and was recognized through various awards including the Sernageomin award and the John T. Ryan award.

Spence has 656 employees, of which 70 per cent are from the Antofagasta Region. The workforce is young and newly trained, with the company investing heavily in their development.

"We are committed to safety excellence and to the well- being of our employees. I would like to recognize the work done by Alan Pangbourne, the Project Manager, and all of his team for their contribution to the design and construction of this site, in particular their hard work and professionalism that has enabled this project to be delivered to schedule and budget", said Francisco Costabal, the General Manager of Minera Spence.

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