Russia’s Alrosa, the world’s top diamond producer by output in carats, has officially shifted operations at its flagship Udachnaya mine from open-pit to underground mining.
The underground face of Udachnaya (meaning “lucky”) is expected to yield 5 million carats a year by 2019. It will be the Russian firm’s largest underground mine and one of the world’s top diamond producing mines, Alrosa said in a statement.
Open-pit mining at the Udachny kimberlite pipe, one of Alrosa’s largest deposits, began in 1967. Since then, the 640-meter deep pipe produced about 350 million tons of ore containing rough diamonds worth around $80 billion, with an output of up to 12.8 million tons of ore per year.
The final blasting operations at the open-pit mine took place in the first half of 2015, producing 1.05 million tons of ore (about 1.7 million carats of rough diamonds) during the year.
“The Udachny open-pit made a great contribution to ALROSA’s development, and its conservation represents a milestone in the history of the company,” Andrey Zharkov, ALROSA’s president said in the statement.
He added that the mine is central to ALROSA’s goal of reaching annual production of 41 million carats, along with a gradual increase in production at the Zarnitsa open-pit mine and new kimberlite pipes, located in the Verkhne-Munskoye field, expected to come on stream in 2018, as part of the Udachny division. This unit groups the Udachnaya mine, the Zarnitsa pipe, and various alluvial deposits located in western Yakutia region.
The division, which is one of five mining units at ALROSA, registered a 30% production increase to 2.8 million carats during the first half of 2015, compared to the same period last year, with the bulk coming from the Udachnaya open pit.
Alrosa also operates the International and Aikhal underground mines, which have a capacity of 500 thousand tons of ore per year, and the Mir underground mine, which can reach 1 million tons of ore per year at full-tilt.
Currently the miner’s main processing facilities are in Western Yakutia and the Arkhangelsk region, as well as in Africa —in Angola and Botswana.