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Jon Pearson (Telegraph Online)

Ambitious project to harness rare minerals unveiled

By Anna Liesowska
09 April 2015

Deposits uncovered 56 years ago set to finally be extracted as drillers aim to take on China and become a major force in producing ore.

'Tomtor is a world leader in the resources of REM. If we say that we need about 15,000 tonnes a year, it means that we have enough stocks for hundreds of years.' Picture: Yulia Pozdnyakova

An ambitious project to harness precious rare earth minerals in the Russian Far East has been announced more than 50 years after they were first discovered.

One of the biggest deposits in the world was located in Tomtor, in the Sakha Republic, in 1959 but with no demand for them at the time – and no infrastructure to develop the site – no production was ever started.

Now, though, with a growing market for the ore, particularly in China, plans have been unveiled to finally begin extracting the minerals.

A two-year geological exploration at Buranny has been initiated by TriArk Mining with the Vostochnaya Burovaya Kompaniya contracted to undertake the work.

Following a subsequent feasibility study, the project will then enter a design phase with the construction of the plant itself before the first ore is taken from the ground in 2020.

It is believed there are hundreds of years-worth of REM in the region, with the minerals able to be used in many cutting-edge technologies.

The elements can be found in car catalytic converters, wind power generators, phosphors for flat screen televisions, LED lighting, high strength magnets, and a range of chemicals.

Tomtor deposit

The mineral field is in the north of the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in the Olenek district. Picture: Google maps 

Dr Alexander Tolstov, a senior fellow of the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, said now is the perfect time to begin cultivating the ore.

He said that REM is in high demand, but warned it could be difficult to break into the global market since China is the biggest producer and can dictate terms.

The drilling company hopes to be able to occupy a dominant position in the European market and provide up to 10 per cent of the world’s supply of rare earth metals.

Dr Tolstov said: 'So far China has had a monopoly on such metals. In the 1990s, Russia had its own problems but China made the production of REM its national programme.

'They hit all the markets of the world and because REM was being sold very cheaply, all others just stopped producing the ore.

'However, ten years later, when the countries with well-developed high-tech industries became 'addicted' to rare-earth metals, China immediately picked up the prices ten-fold, and benefitted greatly on this, because industries needed these metals anyway.'

Tomtor deposit


Tomtor deposit

At present there are no permanent all-season roads, with air transport often the only way to reach the area, and the excavation site is a wild area with limited access. Picture: Google maps, Yulia Pozdnyakova

He added: 'Our problem is that the main products that contain REM are mostly still imported. Nevertheless, the government has made a declaration that by the year 2020 we will consume 9-15 tonnes of rare earth oxides. Therefore we need our own sources.

'Tomtor is a world leader in the resources of REM. If we say that we need about 15,000 tonnes a year, it means that we have enough stocks for hundreds of years.'

Rare earth minerals contain one or more of the rare earth elements – 17 chemical elements from the periodic table – as major metal constituents.

Despite their name, they are plentiful in the Earth’s crust but because of their geochemical properties they are typically dispersed and not often found concentrated as rare earth minerals in an economically exploitable ore deposit.

The mineral field is in the north of the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in the Olenek district. It is an area mostly located in the Arctic and while it is the largest region, it is home to only 4,000 people, the majority of them Evenks, who live in a communal tribal system.

Tomtor deposit


Tomtor deposit

Ecologists examine Tomtor deposit, checking the background radiation. Temporary settlement on Buranny. Pictures: Sakha Media, TriArk Mining

At present there are no permanent all-season roads, with air transport often the only way to reach the area, and the excavation site is a wild area with limited access.

It means the main task facing developers is the creation of major infrastructure, starting with an all-season road from Yakutsk to Tomtor, and the village that will be built at Buranny.

The ore will be processed in Krasnoyarsk Territory, at the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Plant, so a way to deliver it there also has to be found. 

The cost of shipping it to Krasnoyarsk could be significantly reduced by going by rail, either on the existing Baikal-Amur mainline, or the Amur-Yakutsk line which is under construction.

However, both routes will only be practical after the completion of the last section of the route from Nizhny Bestyakh to Yakutsk with the bridge across Lena River.

Comments (3)

From the first day with Rurik vikings, Russian waterways have played an essential role in Russian trade, and so should be for the future. The Russian Government should revitalize Russian waterways.
Enrique, EnriqueSpain
12/04/2015 21:44
3
0
Now that the Artic Route is being developed, the three large waterways from Russia [Obi, Yenisei and Leña] should be revitalized. Obi means Novosibirdk. Yenisei means Krasnoyarsk and Leña means Yakutsk. The structure os the Russian Federation is very simple. A vertebral column from St. Petersburg to Sochi [!] ; another vertebral column from Moscow to Vladivostok [----] and three waterways [!!!] Thid is Russia: ( +-!-!-!-)
Enrique, Spain
12/04/2015 21:37
3
0
The cheapest way is using the old YENISEI river as a waterway. So, the road or railway just has to reach the Northern coast to the sea, and there, the REM cargo can be transported by ship to the delta of the Yenisei river and to Krasnoyarsk. The waterway is the cheapest transport way as it is already built.
Enrique, Spain
10/04/2015 00:55
8
0
1

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