11/04/2014 07:49 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST

Sudbury superstack obsolete? Vale studies whether to take down icon

Sudbury's skyline may drastically change in the next few years. Global mining giant Vale is studying whether to tear down its iconic superstack.

Vale's vice-president of operations for Ontario, Kelly Strong, said emissions at the company's smelter have been reduced to the point that a smaller smoke stack may be all that is needed.

"I think we have to look at if it isn't in use any longer," he said. "We obviously put a significant amount of maintenance into that superstack right now, and I think we have to look at long term, what is the cost-benefit analysis of keeping it up."

- AUDIO| Vale looking to take down superstack

The superstack has marked Sudbury's skyline since it was built by the Sudbury miner INCO in 1970 to reduce environmental degradation in the city. INCO was purchased by Vale in 2006.

Strong said Vale is studying the feasibility of reducing the size of the 380-metre stack or eliminating it altogether. If Vale chooses to remove it, he said a third party company would be hired to decommission and tear down the stack.

Reduction in greenhouse gases

A smaller smokestack at the Vale smelter is a sign less fossil fuel is being released into the environment, said John Gunn, a director at Vale's Living with Lakes Centre at Laurentian University.​

The superstack was built for a time when the company needed to dissipate the fumes from the smelter, he said. Now that it has cutback on emissions, it's wasting energy using the superstack.

Gunn said a smaller stack would use less fossil fuels, which would help to bring down global greenhouse gas emissions.

"As Sudbury was so famous for reducing its sulphur dioxide, it's nice to see a company making a serious effort to reduce its fossil fuel use as well," he said.

"If Vale can clean up its smokestack, make it a more efficient stack that doesn't produce as much greenhouse gas, at the same time they're dealing with they're own pollutants, then all the better."

Vale is expected to make a decision about the superstack early next year.

Here's a look at what the Sudbury skyline might look like without the stack: