The Urals deposits
Platinum group metals production in Russia has a history stretching back to the early nineteenth century. Large alluvial platinum deposits were discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1823, and have been exploited continuously up to the present. Once far richer than any known underground sources, these deposits have long since been stripped of the highest grade ore and now account for under one per cent of Russian platinum production.
The Noril'sk-Talnakh mines
Production from the Urals placers probably started to decline from the 1920s. But in 1935, exploitation began of pgm-containing copper-nickel deposits on the Taimyr Peninsula in northern Siberia; these remain the most important of Russia's known pgm reserves. The first to be discovered and exploited was the Norilsk deposit; this lies just south of the town of that name which grew up to serve the mining operations. Mining was initially via adit operations, but in the 1940s, two open pits were developed; the smaller, Ugol Creek, was closed in the late 1960s, but the Medvezhy Ruchey pit is still being mined. By the early 1950s the Zapolyarny underground mine was also exploiting the deposit.
In 1960, high grade copper-nickel deposits were discovered at Talnakh, 27 kilometres north of Norilsk. Five mines have since been developed, all of which are still in operation. The first, and shallowest at a maximum depth of around 400 metres, was the Mayak mine; production here started in 1965. It was followed by the Komsomolsky mine in around 1970, and the Oktyabrsky mine about five years later. The Taimyrsky mine entered production during the 1980s and the most recent and deepest mine, Skalisty, was opened in the late 1990s. It operates at depths up to 2,000 metres.
Processing and output levels
Concentrating, smelting and base metal refining are carried out in facilities at the Norilsk-Talnakh complex. A proportion of the high grade nickel ore is sent directly to the Norilsk Nickel Combine (NNC) smelter on the Kola Peninsula. PGM slimes are recovered from the electrolytic refining of nickel and copper and are sent outside NNC to specialist precious metals refineries for the production of pgm.
Peak production at the Norilsk-Talnakh mines was reached in the late 1980s, at around 4 million oz of palladium and 1 million oz of platinum annually. The break up of the Soviet Union heralded a period of declining production which was to continue until the late 1990s. Mine output returned to steady growth throughout the 2000s, but again plateaued from around 2008. Pgm ore grades have shown a gradual decline, and recent production has been supplemented by the processing of above ground stocks of various concentrates.
The company plans to reverse this downward trend by processing increased ore tonnage. This will come from expanding massive ore output in the Skalisty mine and growth in disseminated ore mining on the Norilsk-1 deposit in the existing Medvezhey Ruchey and Zapolyarny operations. While significant capital investment is required to raise concentrator capacity to meet the expansion in tonnes milled, the company currently predicts sustained growth in pgm output to recommence from around 2015. In the longer term, new operations on the Maslovskoye deposit, an extension of the Norilsk-1 reserves, are targeted to maintain growth in pgm output.
Significant quantities of platinum have been produced from two alluvial deposits in the far east region of Russia. The first is the Kondyor mine in Khabarovsk region and the second, which started production in 1994, is the Koryak mine in Kamchatka. Together these two operations produced 185,000 oz of platinum in 2005.
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