The Udokan copper deposit was discovered by Soviet geologists more than 70 years ago. For a long time, the country hadn’t reached this transbaikal treasury. Today, a technological metallurgical production is being built here in the permafrost conditions.
Ore body in permafrost
Nature knows how to take care of its treasures, and most of its wealth is hidden far from the centers of civilization.
The Udokan deposit stores one fifth of Russia’s copper reserves, so the project is a serious claim for success in a global marketplace. There are only two bigger copper deposits in the world: in the Congo and Alaska.
Kalarsky region of Zabaykalsky krai. Mountains, taiga. Nine months of cold, and in winter the temperature falls below minus 60 degrees. Hundreds of kilometers of harsh silence. You can fly here from Chita by plane or take a slow-speed train along the steel “string” of BAM.
In August of this year, the Baikal Mining Company began the long-awaited “opening” of a unique copper deposit.
Initially, it was planned to start capital mining work in January 2021, but experts did it six months earlier due to difficult climatic and geographical conditions.
A special ore body is hidden in the local permafrost
— The deposit contains three types of ores – oxidized, sulfide, and mixed. The uniqueness of our task consisted in the fact that the new integrated technology would make it possible to process Udokan ores with the maximum economic effect, – says Valery Kazikayev, Chairman of the Board of Directors of LLC “Baikal Mining Company” (BGK).
The technological complex of the enterprise consists of two main processes: ore preparation with enrichment and hydrometallurgy – the valuable metal extraction using aqueous solution. The vast majority of Russian enterprises never go beyond pyrometallurgy (ore smelting). In the world, electric extraction (the main process of hydrometallurgy) accounts for about 20 percent of the production of refined copper.
In January 2022, the long-awaited industrial production will begin in Udokan, but for now, specialists are preparing a quarry: they are making access roads, trenches, ledges, and storage areas. Along the way more than a million tons of ore will be mined before the quarry is put into operation.
The construction boom is just around the corner
– In Soviet times, there was not enough determination and technology to start developing such a large field. For many years it remained on paper – in dozens and hundreds of directives, – said Valery Kazikayev. The so necessary technologies to extract the valuable metal from the “copper mountain” appeared only a few years ago.
Power lines were extended to the future buildings of the mining and processing plant and a substation was built. A bridge was constructed over the treacherous Nirungnakan River and the filling of the access road is now being completed. Buildings for preparing reagents and grinding ore are already under the roof. By the end of the year, the external outline will be closed at all the facilities of the concentrating factory. Technological equipment is being imported to future metallurgical sites from EU countries and China. The construction of a plant with a capacity of up to 12 million tons of ore per year will undoubtedly give life to the region. After the completion of the facility, more than two thousand people will get permanent work here. They will need to be deliciously fed, treated, taught and entertained.
Qualified professionals require good housing. Consequently, the construction boom in these places can be said to be guaranteed. In total, support industries will require the involvement of about ten thousand specialists.
New face of the north
The Moscow Urban Center, on request of BGK, has developed a concept of developing Novaya Chara where the company’s base is located. The document presents the future infrastructure. Medical complex with pediatric and adult polyclinics, hospital and support facilities. A sports center with an area of seven thousand square meters with exercise equipment, martial arts halls, a swimming pool, changing rooms and coaching rooms. Community center for cultural events, study clubs and studios, film screenings. The project also includes a stadium with an artificial grass, running tracks, a workout area and other infrastructure.
– The concept isn’t limited only to large objects. It is planned to improve the entire town: streets, playgrounds, parks, squares, to arrange outdoor lighting, – explains Yulia Shabala, deputy director of the BGK for sustainable development and corporate issues. – The main thing is that the ideas of a new life for Chara are offered by the residents themselves at meetings with the project group.
Thanks to the Udokan copper the construction of a modern air terminal will soon begin in Chara. It is designed to service 50 passengers per hour and to operate around the clock. Runways, taxiways and apron will be reconstructed. This is how territories are developed, cities are built, life gets better. This is how new victories are achieved.
Alexander Osipov, Governor of the Zabaykalsky Krai:
– Thanks to the implementation of this project, we must fundamentally change the living conditions on the territory of the remote Kalarsky region. Already now, the Russian government has allocated over 300 million rubles for the social sphere of this territory within the framework of the state program for the development of the Far East. First of all, the funds were used to repair and equip a school, a kindergarten, to build sports facilities, to create a new park and a square and restart the local history museum and a number of other social facilities.
Translated by ILYA MIKHIN