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The Pipe of Peace will be Smoked Again

17 august 2009

After Yury Khabardin, Yekaterina Yelagina and Victor Avdeyenko, geologists of the Amakinsk Expedition, discovered the Mir Diamond Pipe (‘mir’ means ‘peace’ in Russian) they sent a cable to Moscow coded into what later turned a famous phrase: “Smoking a pipe of peace, the tobacco is excellent.” Strip mining for diamonds started there from 1957 and continued up to 2001, when efficient development of the quarry came to the end of tether. Within 1957-2001 the strip mining method produced $17 billion worth of diamonds. The biggest stone ever found in the Russian diamond fields was extracted from the Mir Pipe in 1980 and weighed 342.5 carats.

  Fig. 1. The Mir Diamond Pipe Quarry.

In 2009, ALROSA intends to extract 150,000 tons of diamond ore at the site. In 2010, they will put into operation the first start-up complex with a rated capacity of 500,000 tons and two years later the mine will reach its design output capacity equal to one million tons of ore per year. ALROSA has spent 22 billion roubles to build this mine and expects to get its money back in three and a half years. Underground mining at the pipe will continue for 50 years including the first stage covering 34 years and the second stage stretched out for 16 years.

Due to technologically and economically exhausted possibilities for open-cut diamond mining the company plans to further build three and design two more underground mines each to a depth of 1500 meters. This construction along with other moves to modernize the diamond-mining industry in 2007-2015 will be worth 180 billion roubles.

Over $2.5 billion are earmarked for construction of three new mines located at the Mir, Aikhal and Udachny Diamond Fields during 10 years to bring their total capacity up to 6 million tons of ore per year (Table 1).














 




While constructing the underground mine at the Mir Diamond Pipe the company has performed a comprehensive analysis of the underground operation at the Internatsionalnaya Diamond Pipe started exactly 10 years ago, in 1999, taking all this into account (Fig. 2). Currently, the construction of the underground mine is being completed and its start-up is set for August 2009. ALROSA informed about a large consignment of equipment arrived to the site including a hard-rock mining machine, two load-and-haul machines and a cargo carrier. Continuous hard-rock miner MH620, weighing about 115 tons will be used for roadway development. It has higher output capacity compared with the currently used machinery. The mine will be equipped with one more continuous miner of this type till the end of this year. Scooptram ST14 made by Atlas Copco will serve to load and haul rock. It is equipped with a 7-m3 scoop able to carry up to 14 tons of rock which is twice as much compared with the equipment used at the Internatsionalnaya Mine. Another two ST14s are expected in Mirny within the next two months. All the shipped machinery will be knocked-down and brought to the 301st level of the mine for assembly.

 

Fig. 2. Diagram of underground mining at the Internatsionalnaya Diamond Pipe.

Since the mine is located in the vicinity of the Mirny City, which is a diamond mining center having enough skilled labor, it is unlikely that underground operations there will require additional labor force from outside. Besides, ALROSA’s Training Center will help to train and re-train employees facilitating the social task of providing jobs for unemployed personnel freed from the company’s non-core and liquidated divisions during the crisis time.

In connection with a large-scale transition to underground mining ALROSA is currently living through a complicated period when its performance is going to be drastically lower. To some extent this will be compensated by developing the Udachnaya Pipe to its depth limit (600 m) and by more intensive development of the Yubileynaya Pipe and then adding to this the commencement of works on the pipes of the Verkhne-Munskoye Mine Field. As for ALROSA Group, its efficiency in the next ten years will be backed up by developing the diamond pipes on the Nakynsky Mine Field. This is why the company will need serious scientific and project analysis which will be decisive for maintaining the company’s economic efficiency on an adequate level.

It should be added to the above that in a short term OAO ALROSA-Nyurba, a division of ALROSA, is going to build a mine at the Botuobinskaya Diamond Pipe which is reflected in the Complex Development of Western Yakutia Project currently being worked out. (Fig. 3).

  Fig. 3. Complex Development of Western Yakutia Investment Project.

One of the ways to set off ALROSA’s lost capacity is to create and introduce innovative scientific and technical methods into the mining and beneficiation of diamonds. And here it will be of major importance to develop low impact technologies for diamond mining, mainly explosive-free methods permitting to increase the value of diamonds excavated in the mine fields. Along with switching over to explosive-free diamond mining technologies and forming a certain class of rock lumpiness prepared for beneficiation the company should consider a possibility to apply fundamentally new methods of ore dressing and beneficiation using a different kind of equipment since the existing dressing technologies are prone to destruct large-size diamonds (+20-50 mm). The introduction of such technologies will mainly provide for sparing extraction of large gem-quality diamonds which will naturally result in a significant increase of diamond value as well as in a lower amount of processed rough.

Since the company’s large-scale transition to a less efficient underground mining method coincided with the global economic crisis which brought about a sharp decline in diamond demand across the world ALROSA should also consider the necessary and reasonable amount of rough being mined by its enterprises.

It is expected that the start-up of the Mir Diamond Mine will be attended by high-ranking officials from Moscow and Yakutsk. In the City of Mirny people are anxious to see the mine in operation and are getting ready for this event. It would be good to see the smoko of this “peace pipe” for as long as possible and the Mir Mine turn out diamonds bringing income not only to the country but to the people who mine them in the harsh northern environment.

Yuri Danilov, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Rough and Polished Diamonds Complex Economy, Institute for Regional Economics of the North (Federal State Scientific Entity)