Australian miner Mirabela Nickel has started mining operations at its Santa Rita open cut nickel sulphide mine in Brazil.

Santa Rita is the largest nickel sulphide discovery in the last decade with an indicated resource of 130 million tonnes grading 0.60% nickel for 780,000t of contained nickel, Mirabela said.

The mine will have an initial annual production capacity of 4.6 million tonnes per annum increasing to 6.4 million later this year.

The mine life is expected to be 19 years based on a proven and probable reserve, Mirabela said.

Mirabela managing director Nick Poll said the start of the owner-operator mining at Santa Rita is an important milestone for Mirabela shareholders.

“Only five years ago, we made the largest nickel sulphide discovery over a decade, and we remain on track to be the largest independently-owned nickel sulphide project world wide,” Poll said.

The company completed pre-stripping and stockpiled about 170 000t of mine ore in May 2009. Another 800,000t of ore was pre-stripped with a strip ratio of 2:1.

The stockpiled and pre-stripped ore are adequate to commission the plant, scheduled in late September 2009.