Nyrstar claims a $285-million upgrade to its Hobart zinc smelter will address safety and environmental concerns.

The company has lodged a development application with the Glenorchy City Council and documents with the Environment Protection Authority ahead of work on a new electrolysis plant, or cell house. 

It claims the facility will be able to produce up to 300,000 tonnes per year of cathode zinc. 

“The facility is deteriorating with age and lacks the efficiencies of modern cell houses,” Nyrstar’s documents state. 

“The existing cell house also presents a range of environmental, health and safety, economic and social challenges that affect the long-term viability of the operation.”

There is significant soil and groundwater contamination below the existing cell house of zinc, cadmium, mercury and lead.

Australian Workers Union branch secretary Robert Flanagan hopes the new cell house will lead to a much safer workplace. 

“The safer workplace, better environmental outcomes … should be a plus for both the site and the broader community,” he said. 

“We've had serious concerns about that part of the facility on numerous occasions.”

However, the union is concerned that the project will lead to an unknown number of job losses. The advanced technology should mean fewer people are required in the new facility. 

Nyrstar says details about approvals, timing, costs and employment impacts are yet to be determined.