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Insider Access: The World's Largest Diamond Mine

As Russias largest diamond mining company, ALROSA knows a thing or two about diamonds. The company has been engaged in the exploration, mining, manufact...

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|Oct 29|magazine13 min read

As Russia’s largest diamond mining company, ALROSA knows a thing or two about diamonds. The company has been engaged in the exploration, mining, manufacturing and sale of diamonds for over 60 years and accounts for over 27 percent of the global diamond production, including owning the largest rough diamond reserves in the world.

ALROSA, which previously operated the second largest excavated hole in the world in the Mir mine, has been aggressively carrying out initiatives to transition its Udachny project in northeast Russia underground.

The state-controlled diamond mining company granted us insider access, providing exclusive information and updates on the mine and what the company is anticipating for the future.

The state-controlled diamond mining company granted us an inside look into the Udachny mine, including exclusive information and updates on the future of the mine.

Largest diamond mine in the world

Discovered in 1955, the Udachny mine has become one of ALROSA’s largest diamond deposits ever. The mine is part of the Daldyn-Alakit field situated in the central part of the Yakutian diamondiferous province in Russia. The region consists of kimberlite rocks which contain eskolaite mineral within the natural diamond. The ore body of the mine is separated into Eastern and Western ore bodies which are divided by a block of Upper Cambrian sedimentary rocks.

The open-pit mine, which commenced in 1971, hit its peak in the early 1990s producing more than half of the company’s rough diamonds with 12 million tons per year. At depths of more than 630 meters, the Udachny mine is one of the 10 deepest open-pit mines in the world.

As of late, however, the open-pit mining is nearing its end and the company has initiated plans to transition the mine underground. 

“The open-pit mining couldn’t last forever,” says Evgeniya Kozenko, head of public relations at ALROSA.

“At a certain point open-pit mining at any deposit becomes unprofitable as the pit walls need to be widened to extract kimberlite ore. Today, Udachny open-pit mine has extremely steep slope and we use the remotely controlled equipment for the safe extraction of ore there.”

Open-pit mining is expected to be phased out by 2015.

Future outlook of the mine

In 2004, ALROSA began construction at Udachny to transition it underground. The first start-up complex of the mine was commissioned in 2012 and the commercial production commenced in June 2014.

“The commissioned start-up complex includes a nine meter diameter skip shaft to remove ore and rock and an eight meter diameter ventilation shaft, the largest in Russia today,” says Kozenko.

“Above-zero temperatures are permanently maintained in all the workings by heater installations to ensure comfortable working conditions and prevent possible freezing of the systems.”

The underground portion of the Udachny mine is expected to become Russia’s biggest underground diamond mine when it reaches full capacity in 2019.

“An ambitious program for the construction of underground mines is an integral part of ALROSA’s development strategy aiming to keep its world’s leading position in terms of rough diamond mining and ensure the diamond mining growth up to over 40 million carats,” said ALROSA CEO Fedor Andreev.

“Launch of the Udachny underground mine will allow the Company to maintain stable volumes of diamond production in Western Yakutia for many years.”

The mine will produce 2.4 million to 3 million tons per year by 2016, reaching full capacity of four million tons by 2019. The cumulative production by 2034 is expected to reach 72.3 million tons of ore.

Once at capacity, the mine will be able to provide over five million carats of diamonds per year.

Future of ALROSA

While the transitioning of the mine to underground has gone seemingly well, it hasn’t been without its obstacles.

According to Kozenko, one of the main problems at the construction of Udachny underground mine was mineralized groundwater.

“As to the chemical elements content, groundwater is not dangerous to human health, but is harmful to metal, which requires additional protection for machines and cables. In the early 2000s, ALROSA was considering the possibility for separating useful elements from groundwater, but this project was considered unprofitable. Furthermore, the deposit contains methane manifestations, which requires additional industrial safety measures. Udachny underground mine is equipped with the air analyzing systems in the workings responding to the excess gas level. Electric drive machinery is used in the working instead of diesel machinery to minimize the risk of fire.”

Along with the transition, ALROSA has several other new pipes scheduled for the start of mining operations in the future, including re-commissioning of the Mir mine.

Although the project was completed in 2001, ALROSA has further development of the deposit through underground mining.

“In 2012, it was decided not to rush launching the mine at its design capacity of one million tons of ore per year, and to focus on the creation of the most effective drainage system to ensure the stable operation of Mir in the years ahead,” said Kozenko.

“Nevertheless, diamond mining at Mir is underway.”