Russia begins production of the largest copper deposit ever exploited

Isbel Lázaro.
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Inspenet, September 12, 2023.

The commissioning of Russia’s largest untapped copper deposit began with the production of copper concentrate, in a ceremony that was supervised via video conference by President Vladimir Putin.

Udokan: the Russian deposit never explored

This project, known as Udokan, is located in the easternmost region of Russia and begins operation at a challenging time, as the United States imposed sanctions on the project’s operator, Udokan Copper LLC in April as part of a series of restrictions imposed on the country. in response to their invasion of Ukraine.

Additionally, copper prices experienced a 14% drop in 2022 and have remained stable so far this year, due to demand that has proven weaker than anticipated.

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However, the project benefits from its proximity to China, which is the main consumer of metals, and from the constant demand from that country. Likewise, the project is expected to find support in the growing global demand for the transition towards greener energy in the future.

The Udokan processing plant aims to generate sulfided copper concentrate with a metal content that will range between 40% and 45%, according to the company statement. Its commercial operations are planned to begin this year, although it has not yet disclosed the identity of its potential buyers.

Once the first phase of the metallurgical plant comes online in 2024, Udokan will have the capacity to process up to 15 million metric tons of ore annually, resulting in an annual production of up to 150,000 tons of copper in the form of cathodes and copper concentrate.

This deposit holds the title of being the largest in the country, with approximately 26.7 million tons of estimated copper resources. It has not been exploited since its discovery in 1949, due to a lack of the technology necessary to effectively extract its unique and difficult-to-access mineral.

Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov acquired the rights to exploit the field for the sum of $500 million just before the 2008 financial crisis. It took 10 years to address the project’s technical challenges, develop a new geological model and begin the construction phase.

By 2028, Udokan plans to carry out the second stage of its mining and metallurgical complex, which would result in an increase in annual capacity to process from 24 to 28 million tons of ore, with a potential production of up to 450,000 tons of copper.


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