HAVANA, Feb. 23 -- Cuban plans to produce ferronickel with Venezuela at a partially completed plant in eastern Holguin province are on track with preliminary work well under way, official media said on Monday.
"Civil and technological projects have progressed, as have surveys of the mines and contracting of the labor force and specialized equipment," said a report on the nickel industry during the morning television newscast.
"Plans for the project, one of he most important in the country, are being met," the report said, without providing further details.
Experts have estimated it would take around two years for operations to begin at the plant once preliminary work is finished.
Cuba and Venezuela formed Ferroniquel S.A. in 2007 to complete the Camarioca nickel works left unfinished with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.
The two countries have also formed a joint venture in Venezuela to produce stainless steel using Cuban ferronickel.
Plans call for $500 million to be invested in the Cuban part of the project and $600 million in the steel plant.
Cuban officials have said in the past Camarioca could produce 68,000 tonnes of ferronickel annually (21,000 tonnes nickel).
Cuba currently has three nickel processing plants operating in Holguin, one a joint venture with Canadian resource company Sherritt International (S.TO: Quote) and two older state-owned plants.
The Communist-run Caribbean island is one of the world's largest nickel producers at 70,000 tonnes last year, and supplies 10 percent of the world's cobalt, according to the Basic Industry Ministry.
Ferronickel is an iron-nickel combination mostly used in steel making.
Nickel is essential in the production of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys. Cobalt is critical in production of super alloys used for such products as aircraft engines.
Unrefined nickel plus cobalt has consolidated its position as Cuba's largest export.
Cuban nickel is considered to be Class II with an average 90 percent nickel content.
Cuba's National Minerals Resource Center reported that eastern Holguin province, where the industry is located, had around a third of the world's known reserves.