Canada's First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO) plans to restart copper production at its closed Bwana Mkubwa processing plant once it receives the go-ahead to open a new mine in central Zambia, the company said.

First Quantum said in an environmental assessment document submitted to the state-run Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) it intended to start mining at the Fishtie mine, but no timeline was given.

Under Zambian law, mining firms must first seek the approval of the ECZ before they can start producing copper.

First Quantum Minerals intend to mine in the Mkushi district by open pit mining methods. The mined ore will be transported to Bwana Mkubwa processing plant in Ndola for processing, said the document seen by Reuters on Monday.

First Quantum, which also operates the Kansanshi copper mine and has a minority stake in Mopani Copper Mines (MCM), shut down the Bwana Mkubwa plant in October 2008 after authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) banned exports of copper ore to Zambia.

First Quantum was mining copper at Lonshi mine inside the DRC for processing at Bwana Mkubwa.

The document submitted to the ECZ said First Quantum intended to mine three million tonnes of copper ore at Fishtie copper deposit in Mkushi, about 275 km north east of Lusaka.

The mine's life was estimated at 27 months at an ore production rate of 100,780 tonnes per month, the document said.

Copper mining is the economic mainstay of the southern African country of 12 million people and mines are also a major employer. (Reporting By Shapi Shacinda; editing by James Jukwey)© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved