Oldest Norilsk mine located above sea level
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Oldest Norilsk mine located above sea level

August 30, 2022

On the eve of Miner's Day, This Is Taimyr’s correspondents visited the oldest Norilsk mining enterprise, the Zapolyarny mine.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR.  Zapolyarny was the first of the mines to appear on the industrial map of Norilsk – on August 2, 1945.

The mine is unique not only for the high content of platinoids in the ore, but also for the fact that its underground workings are located above sea level: underground, but above the Copper plant’s pipes. The lowest level with drainage is located at the minus 63 mark, the highest underground working is at the level of plus 252.

The Norilsk-1 deposit of the Zapolyarny mine was uncovered by two vertical shafts and two adits. In order to thoroughly understand how everything works here, we chose the One Day in the Mine’s Life format and set off with our guides through the Zapolyarny sites.

On the journey to the mine, to the 9-BIS shaft and the quarry, about 20 locations and episodes awaited us: from checking for the presence of alcohol and pre-shift control to loading the rock mass uphill. From the lamp room, where self-rescuers and miner lamps are given, until the moment when water is pumped out of the quarry. Everywhere we met people who represent a dangerous and difficult mining profession.

The main transport of the Zapolyarny mine’s underground realm – railway – is represented by electric locomotives and trolleys, they carry the mined ore. We were delivered to remote areas of the enterprise by a special bus.

The attendants said that specialists of forty male and female professions work at Zapolyarny, from dispatchers to the pumping units drivers. Everyone in his post is the boss, everyone is worth their weight in gold and contributes to the common cause.

For example, the mine geologist’s task is to check the qualitative composition of the ore, to monitor the seams state. Oil products distributors refuel equipment, issue fuels and lubricants. The composition of the mine atmosphere in the underground is determined by gas measurers. Explosives experts perform explosive work, help miners develop mineral deposits, and so on.

All professions are important, but among them there are the main ones: drillers, load-and-dump machines drivers (LDM) and electric locomotives, explosives experts, longwall faces miners – and auxiliary ones: they include lifting drivers, electric locomotives, ventilation unit minders, crushers, explosive materials distributors, pumping unit machinists and electricians.

Nornickel’s mining equipment is modern drilling machines, load-and-dump machines, machines for charging wells, roofing machines. The mine’s self-propelled equipment fleet as well as at other Nornickel enterprises is constantly updated.

Today, Zapolyarny mines 1.2 million tons of ore per year. Upon the construction second stage completion, it is planned to reach the figure of 4.5 million tons.

A few years ago, the Medvezhiy Ruchey quarry got a second life (by the way, open pit mining in Norilsk was once started despite of skeptics’ disagreement), with the development of mining operations, its productivity will reach seven million tons.

Not so long ago, the company purchased the first samples of battery technology in Russia for Zapolyarny. These are self-propelled vehicles for transporting concrete mix and a bus for transporting people. When using them, there are no harmful emissions into the atmosphere, which is very important in the limited space of the mine.

The ore is crushed and lifted along the shaft by a skip lift to the horizon plus 252 (receiving hoppers). Further along the 201 meter, it is loaded and taken out through adits to the Norilsk Concentration Plant.

At a certain moment, according to the internal schedule, we went to the self-propelled equipment storage chamber. We were witnessing the rock mass transportation, as well as the starter repair – this is the equipment maintenance and repair electricians’ task. After that, we again moved to the portals and climb to 9-BIS, from where the dispatcher monitors the rock mass loading system. We also got to the crushing complex.

In the final, we managed to visit the quarry, watched how the pumping unit operator and electricians worked to repair overhead power lines.

The project, which is much talked about today in terms of the mine development, is called the Southern Cluster. It involves the Zapolyarny mine and the Medvezhiy Ruchey open pit mine mining capacities improvement, as well as the new Norilsk concentrator construction, an increase in production to nine million tons of ore per year, an annual production of more than 20 tons of platinum group metals, the construction of a modern auxiliary infrastructure – gas pipelines, power lines, gas boilers, roads and other important facilities.

We previously reported that Nornickel entered the top 50 largest mining companies in the world. The company will create up to 11 000 new jobs and open recruitment centers all over the country.

Recall that in 2021 the demand for miners in Russia increased by 207 percent. Their work is compared in complexity with the work of astronauts. And in terms of the reserves volume and the mineral resources diversity, the Nornickel Polar Division mines have no analogues in the world.

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Text: Marina Horoshevskaya, Photo: Nikolay Shchipko

August 30, 2022

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