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Co-Chairs Robert Friedland and Yufeng “Miles” Sun of Ivanhoe Mines have announced that underground development at the Kamoa-Kakula copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) mined and stockpiled 269,000 tonnes of ore grading 5.36% copper in December from the Kakula and Kansoko mines.

The tonnage was 7.6% higher than November, while the copper grade was 10.5% higher.

The project’s pre-production surface stockpiles now contain approximately 1.52 Mt of high-grade and medium-grade ore at an estimated blended grade of 4.03% copper.

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Contained copper in the stockpiles increased by approximately 14,400 tonnes in December – a 30.9% increase over November’s production reflecting the increased mining in the ultra-high-grade centre of the Kakula deposit – to a cumulative total of more than 61,000 tonnes.

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The project is on track to have approximately 3 Mt of high-grade and medium-grade ore stockpiled on surface, holding more than 125,000 tonnes of contained copper, prior to the planned start of processing in July 2021.

Friedland and Sun also note that the project team established another new monthly record for underground mine development in December with a total of 2,792 metres of advancement – 620 metres more than the previous monthly high achieved in October 2020.

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Another important development milestone was achieved in late December with the second holing of Kakula’s northern and southern access tunnels, establishing additional access to mine Kakula’s high-grade ore in the centre of the orebody grading +8% copper.

“After more than 26 years of continuous efforts, Ivanhoe Mines and its JV partners are less than six months away from initial production at Kamoa-Kakula – the first world-scale copper discovery on the African continent in generations. This year’s transformation marks the beginning of the next chapter of our journey that began in 1994 and has involved thousands of dedicated and talented people,” says Friedland.

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“Underground development at the Kakula Mine is well ahead of schedule and construction of the first phase processing plant is on schedule to produce exceptionally high-grade and clean copper concentrates beginning this July.

“The performance of Kamoa Copper’s multinational management team in successfully navigating the profound logistical challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic has been absolutely outstanding.

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“Our expectations are for continued rising copper prices through 2021 and beyond; as such, the timing of Kamoa Copper’s first production is fortuitous given that the project is scheduled to have ore stockpiles containing more than 125,000 tonnes of contained copper available for processing by 1 July.

A rising copper price directly impacts the realizable value of the contained copper in the stockpiles, the cost of which is capitalized,” Friedland added.

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December’s record-setting advancement brings total underground development to approximately 29.8 kilometres – approximately 10.5 kilometres ahead of schedule. The monthly underground development in December was comprised of 2,521 metres at the Kakula Mine and 271 metres at the Kansoko Mine.

Mark Farren, Kamoa Copper’s CEO, commented:

“A terrific performance by our mining teams in December and an exceptional way to end 2020. To achieve a record-setting month in the midst of the holiday season is a testament to the commitment and professionalism of our people. The start of 2021 brings with it a sense of excitement and opportunity as we begin to shift our focus from mine development to production.”

“Mining crews recently entered a remarkably thick zone of high-grade ore grading +8% copper in the centre of the Kakula Mine, which has allowed us to enlarge the development drifts in this area to 10 metres high by 7.5 metres wide (75 m2), and the increase in ore tonnes per metre of development has been substantial,” Farren added.

Kakula’s combined medium-grade and high-grade ore mined in December was approximately 245,000 tonnes at an average grade of 5.64% copper, including approximately 55,000 tonnes grading 8.75% copper from the +8% copper zone in the centre of the orebody.

Mining crews at Kakula are primarily focused on developing the drift-and-fill mining blocks in the high-grade centre of the orebody.

Opening up of the mining footprint for these high grade, drift-and-fill mining areas entails, by necessity, development work in areas of low-, medium- and high-grade ore, and is designed to coincide with the start-up of the processing plant in July.

This will allow crews to deliver significant tonnage of high-grade ore directly from Kakula’s underground workings to the processing plant.