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Russia's Pechenganikel.

The nickel mines of the former Soviet Union produced 212,000t of the metal in 1990, up slightly from the 205,000t produced in 1989 and 1988, according to Metallgesellschaft(1). Inco estimates higher production levels of 280,000-300,000t/y in recent years. A significant part of that production comes from Pechenganikel on the Kola Peninsula, part of the Norilsk Nikel Kombinat. Recent months have seen considerable speculation about the Kola operations (MJ, January 24, p.53 and p.66, February 7, p.95, February 21, p.140 and February 28, p.152-153).

Norilsk Nikel operates a total of ten mines, three open pits and seven underground operations. The Pechenganikel Kombinat encompasses two mining-industrial areas, Zapolyarnij (population 23,564) and Nikel (population 21,838). Pechenganikel employs a total workforce of 15,200 people and operates two open-pit and two underground mines. Equipment and expertise from Finland and Sweden have recently had an important impact on these operations and on downstream facilities.

Pechenga's two open pits, Tsentralny (Central) and Zapadny (Western), have a gross annual output of about 15 million |m.sup.3~ of waste and ore. Ore production is around 6 Mt/y. The underground mines, grading 0.5-2%, are Severny (Northern), producing about 650,000 t/y of ore, and Kaula Kotselvaara. Reserves at Tsentralny, Zapadny and Severny should sustain mining operations for another 40-50 years.

Towards the end of 1990, Inco's Peter Salathiel estimated Soviet nickel output at around 280,000 t/y. His figures show the Siberian Norilsk mines dominating this output with 200,000 t of contained nickel. Norilsk refined output was only 91,000 t, as it shipped about 100,000 t of contained nickel for refining on the Kola Peninsula and the remainder was shipped to the west in matte. Pechanga's Kola Peninsula mines produced about 36,000 t of contained nickel, but the refined output of the whole Pechenganikel complex was perhaps over 140,000 t at that time with extra feedstocks from Norilsk and the Urals (Rezh/Ufaly). His other estimates for mine contained nickel output were 27,000 t from Rezh/Ufaly, 28,000 t from Orsk and 4,500 t from Pobugskoye (north of Odessa).

Inco's 1991 estimates for the Norilsk complex were 200,000 t mined and 100,000 t refined, while the Kola operations produced significantly more mined nickel than in 1990, a contained total of 50,000t, and it refined the same quantity as 1990, 140,000 t. Mine production from other sources was 50,000 t that year and refined output was 60,000 t. Thus total Soviet output for 1991 was estimated at 300,000 t by Inco with 159,000 t consumed on the domestic market, 30,000 t exported to former Communist Bloc countries and 111,000 t shipped to the west.

Russian nickel

The Soviet nickel industry was reorganised in 1989 when the Norilsk complex (MM, January 1992, pp. 11-13) and the Krasnoyarsk platinum plant in eastern Siberia, and the Pechenga and Monche-gorsk nickel complexes on the Kola Peninsula were grouped together into Norilsk Nikel. That new organisation, totally Russian, controls two-thirds of the nickel and cobalt production of what was the Soviet Union, and 30% of its copper production. Most Soviet platinum group metal production is a by-product of these operations, primarily from Norilsk with lesser amounts from Pechenga.

Most recently Norilsk Nikel has formed a new company, Normaco, with Axel Johnson Resources to market its nickel, cobalt and copper. In January of this year Mr. Oleg Galushko, a former director of Pechenganikel, moved to London as executive director of Normaco.

Metallgesellschaft reports that "efforts are being made to gain the ability to sell more nickel products such as nickel salts, nickel powder and nickel alloys on world markets as well as cathodes. An initial step is the concentration of metal production on the Kola Peninsula. Pechenga and Monchegorsk are the production centres, the former being responsible for matte production and the latter for production of both matte and refined nickel".

According to Shearson Lehman(2), Norilsk Nikel's major facility at Norilsk has a refining capacity of 90,000 t/y of nickel cathodes. In addition, 30,000 t of nickel in ore is shipped from Norilsk to the Pechenga smelter, prior to refining at Monchegorsk, which has a capacity of 140,000 t/y. A further 75,000 t of nickel in matte is shipped to Monchegorsk.

Another major production centre is Orsk, where there is a 40,000 t/y refinery, some 1,500 km south-east of Moscow. Although Orsk is in Russia, just north of the border with Kazakhstan, some of its ore supply comes from Kazakhstan. Mines (mining districts) around the Orsk area include Sachara, Ajdyrlinskij, Chalilovo, Aktubinsk, Kempirsaj and Buruktal. There are also some mines in the Ukraine, the Pobusk and Kirovograd mines of Pobugskoye. Nevertheless, Russia obviously controls by far the largest share of the nickel production of what is now the Commonwealth of Independent States.

North of Orsk, also in Russia, there is, additionally, a 23,000 t/y refinery at Rehz Ufaly(2), with mines in this area at Serov, Rehz, Revda and Verchnij Ufalej(1).

Kola Peninsula nickel

The Monchegorsk smelter produced its first matte in 1939(3), its first electrolytic nickel in 1940, and its first by-product cobalt in 1941. When the Soviet Union entered World War II the plant's equipment was dismantled and evacuated to safer locations further into the Soviet Union, including Orsk and Norilsk. The smelter was restored after the war but the ore reserves of the local Nittis-Kumuzhye mines were too limited to sustain long-term operations and other sources were required.

The first supplementary ore source was the development of the Kaula Kotselvaara mine (near Nikel) in Finland's Petsamo (Pechenga) district, discovered in the 1930s by Finnish government geologists. The deposit was developed before the war by Petsamon Nikkeli Oy, an Inco subsidiary, which also built a smelter designed to produce 7,000 t/y of matte from 200,000 t of ore. Originally, an ore containing about 3.5% Ni, 1.5% Cu, 25% Fe and 13% S was treated directly.

By the end of 1938(4) development of the Kaula Kotselvaara mine, which is still producing today, had progressed with an adit over 2,600 m long; a 200 m vertical shaft had been sunk to connect with this. Many surface installations had been built and the smelter was under construction.

This region passed into Soviet control after the war. The Russians named the mining settlement Nikel, rebuilt its smelter and rehabilitated the mines. By 1946 the entire operation, by then known as Pechenganikel, was back in production. Known ore reserves in the region were greatly boosted by the discovery of the Zndanovskoye deposit. The town of Zapolyarnij was founded in 1956 at the same time as mine development of this deposit, now the Tsentralny mine, began. The Severny mine was opened at the end of 1975.

Dr. Vasilii V. Strishkov(6), former Soviet Expert U.S. Bureau of Mines, declares that "in the Kola Peninsula, five regions of copper-nickel mineralisation may be recognised: Pechenga, Monchegorsk, Allarechen, Imandra-Varzug and Lovnozero. The first four regions are confined to the so called Pechenga-Verzug structural-facies zone, a fold belt of Karelides.

The deposits in the Pechenga-Monchegorsk area occur as steeply dipping lenticular bodies along the contacts between a series of Paleozoic pyroxenite sills intruded into Precambrian schists and slates. Subsequently, deformation resulted in stongly sheared and brecciated zones that have localised the sulphide orebodies.

Ore grades of Pechenga deposits developed by Inco in this area prior to 1940 averaged about 3.8% Ni, 1.8% Cu and 0.08% precious metals. The ore deposits at Monchegorsk, 150km to the southeast, are appreciably lower, averaging about 0.7% Ni and 0.4% Cu".

There are more than 20 copper-nickel deposits in the Pechenga ore field; 110 nickel-bearing intrusions of basic and ultramafic rocks and some 60 intrusive gabbro-diabase bodies have been discovered. All occur within the tuffaceous sedimentary sequence, the mineralisation is stratiform or lenticular and like the country rocks these bodies repeat the outlines of the major folds and dip to the south and south-west at 30-60|degree~ conformably. Thicknesses vary from 2 to 700 m and strike lengths from 200 to 7,000 m.

Figures from 1989(6) for total reserves on the Kola Peninsula estimate 376 Mt of ore containing 4.85 Mt of nickel metal and 155,000 t of cobalt. Included within that total are 18 Mt of ore at Kaula, containing 120,000 t of nickel, and 135 Mt of ore in the Zndanovskoye deposit containing 760,000 t of nickel.

An interesting comment from Strishkov is that "one of the biggest disappointments must have been the continued lack of progress in exploration on the Kola Peninsula, where efforts are still being made to find large deposits with high Ni or Co contents".

Strishkov indicates that in 1982 the wholesale cost per ton of nickel was Roubles 4,300, and that of cobalt was Roubles 22,200. At that time, the planned production costs for Soviet nickel were broken down as 57.94% raw materials, 14.25% amortisation, 12.66% wages and salaries, 6.91% fuels, 3.34% energy, 1.76% foreign (Cuban) semi-products and 3.14% 'others'.

Open-pit mining

Pechenganikel's Tsentralny open pit is extracting ore containing some 0.5% nickel. It is about 300 m deep, and unlikely to go much deeper. At this and the adjacent Zapadny mine at Zapolyarnij trucks haul the ore to transfer stations, while overburden from the upper levels is transported in railcars. Most of the truck and railroad fleet is domestic equipment. The trucks, manufactured at the Byeloruusian plant in Zhudino, have capacities from 75 to 110 t and the current excavator fleet comprises units with 6.5 |m.sup.3~, 8 |m.sup.3~ and 12 |m.sup.3~ buckets. The Soviet-made electric mine locos haul railcars with capacities of 105-180 |m.sup.3~.

Ore dumped at the transfer stations is reloaded and carried by railroad to the Zapolyarnij dressing plant. Its capacity throughput is 7.5 Mt/y. The excess capacity, above the 6 Mt/y of ore produced in the open pits, is taken up by some of the low-grade ore from the Kaula Kotselvaara underground mine near Nikel.

Kaula Kotselvaara is extracting ore from three deposits which cover a strike length of 10 km. The deposits are connected by a 10 km long adit. Rich ore from this source is sent directly to the Nikel smelter, some of the low-grade ore goes to the Zapolyarnij concentrator and some is dressed in Nikel. The output of the dressed ore is 800,000 t/y.

Dressing Plant No. 1 at Zapolyarnij has just been modernised and refurbished by Outokumpu. This involved the installation of more efficient, higher capacity equipment and a great deal of automation. Outokumpu has a similar project at Nikel.

The concentrate produced at Zapolyarnij is subsequently roasted and copper-nickel pellets are produced. Pechenganikel is Russia's sole producer of this product. The output of the pelletising plant is 450,000t/y of pellets and this concentrate contains 6% Ni. About two-thirds of the output goes to the smelter in Nikel and some is sent to the Severonikel Integrated Plant (Monchegorsk). Pechenganikel itself does not export nickel.

The Nikel smelter treats 1.5 Mt/y and produces 100,000 t of converter matte, containing 50,000 t of nickel metal.

It is proposed that much modernisation of the metallurgical plants also be undertaken in the near future. At the end of October last year Outokumpu submitted its commercial tender for the renovation of the Pechenganikel smelter facilities. The $600 million tender includes a flash smelter based on Outokumpu technology and construction of a sulphuric acid plant. Furthermore, a slag cleaning component of the tender has been prepared by Elkem Technology of Norway. The proposed rehabilitation would take three years from the signing of a contract and would dramatically reduce the level of S|O.sub.2~ emissions.

Pechenganikel supports a well developed social infrastructure. As Mr. Vitality Ivanovitch Popov, deputy director of personnel and social welfare in Zapolyarnij, points out, "in addition to the main production, we take care of everything that is connected with the everyday life of people living in the Far North". Conditions there are extreme, with long cold winters and, in winter, the long Polar nights. "This is why we believe that the plant should take care of the people here".

The whole population of the mining industrial area, including those who come under municipal jurisdiction, is provided with "food, clothes, industrial goods, etc. The plant is the owner of 580,000|m.sup.2~ of housing. We own 22 kindergartens. We posses two palaces of culture, two palaces of sports, we have stadiums of our own".

The Severny mine

The 650,000 t/y Severny mine employs 590 people, of whom 400 are involved in production and the remainder are on development.

Development of the mine began back in 1972. Primary access to the mine is provided by twin parallel haul roads. Production levels can be entered from the haulage drives, flanked on both sides of the orebody by ventilation raises, with ventilation and fill raises towards the centre.

The main production areas are currently centred on two levels 260 and 320 m below surface. The primary mining method is sub-level open stoping with back-filling. Mined-out stopes are filled with waste rock, sand and cement. Voids have to be carefully and completely filled. One of Severny's problems is that it is extracting ore from below the Tsentralny open pit.

The mine has to conform with very strict backfilling requirements to avoid surface caving. Mining of the next stope in the mining sequence can only commence once the backfill in the previous stope has completely set.

If the thickness of the orebody is less than 3 m, a short-hole production drilling method is used, accounting for about 12% of production. Long production blastholes are used when orebody thicknesses are greater than 3m.

The drilling fleet comprises Tamrock jumbos, plus one Atlas Copco Boomer 128. Drill rods and bits are purchased from Sandvik, while the explosives are locally produced. Broken ore is removed from the stopes by a mixed fleet of Kawasaki LHDs and Soviet-made PD-8 units made in Donetsk, Ukraine. There is also one Wagner ST-8B LHD.

Truck haulage to surface

The mine operates a fleet of seven Kiruna Truck K-501s to haul ore to surface. Each has a capacity of 23|m.sup.3~ (45t). In all, Pechenganikel Kombinat has purchased 19 Kiruna trucks of this model, delivered in 1983, 1990 and 1991. They operate three shifts per day, seven days per week. The one-way average haul distance is 6,500 m at a gradient of 10%, and the complete roundtrip normally takes around two hours. The mine operates two seven-hour shifts and one six-hour shift. Therefore each truck will make three round trips per shift. However, there is some residual ore left in the upper levels, 300 m and 240 m below surface. When hauling ore from these areas up to six trips can be undertaken each shift. In September last year there were a maximum of 35 drivers working on the Kiruna trucks.

According to Alexander Baranov, mine superintendent at Severny, the mine's major problem is its complete lack of any ore hoisting facility. There are no operating shafts because the shaft sinking contractor is far behind schedule. The first shaft was sunk to 1,290 m below surface and it should have started hoisting ore as far back as 1987. However, due to various problems, work has still not been completed and shaft construction continues. Thus all the ore comes to surface in the Kiruna trucks, up a spiral ramp developed in the footwall. Alexander Baranov admits that this is expensive, but in the absence of shaft hoisting it has been, and continues to be, an effective method of bringing ore to the surface. The portal elevation is 156 m above sea level and the bottom of the ramp is about 400 m below surface. Thus, the vertical lift accomplished by the trucks is around 550 m.

The LHDs load the Kiruna trucks directly, taking 15-20 minutes to load each one. In addition, some ore is loaded from an ore bin fed by the underground crusher, some 330 m below sea level. Loading of a truck from this installation is much more efficient, taking only one or two minutes.

Alexander Baranov points out that the loading systems and methods have to be changed and the loading process optimised. Furthermore "the |crusher~ location is not really the best. It would be far more effective and economical to have it near the vertical shafts. But these have not been built yet. The problem is that the lower we get with new workings, the farther we get from the crusher. We need Kiruna trucks to transport the ore, with distances increasing all the time". Obviously, the long haul distances also incur expensive haul road maintenance.

He further points out that "we cannot send a large number of additional Kiruna trucks into the mine." One of the main reasons is ventilation. The Kirunas have a very powerful diesel engine -- more than 500 hp. According to our requirements the fresh air supply per minute is 5 |m.sup.3~/hp.

We have high-capacity ventilation installations, and even today we must supply 450 |m.sup.3~ of fresh air per second into the mine. This is a significant limiting factor.

If the mine had been designed for Kiruna electric trucks from the beginning, it would have been much better. We would have gained much if we had bought Kiruna electric trucks. On the other hand, we would have had to make many changes in the underground mine and make capital investments into haul roads".

Because of the delays in shaft construction the mine is developing the Eastern inclined shaft to surface, at a gradient of 29|degrees~. Construction work and installation was to have been finished by the end of 1991. The aim is to provide rail-mounted skip haulage to surface from the 260 m and 200 m levels, with a capacity of 100,000 |m.sup.3~/y or more.

Upon completion of this installation, the Kiruna trucks will haul ore from the lower levels to the crusher. Then smaller, 20|m.sup.3~, Soviet-made MAZ trucks will transport the crushed ore to the Eastern shaft system for hoisting to surface.

Other problems highlighted by Alexander Baranov, are of a rock mechanics nature. As mining goes to greater depths, so stope and drive instability is becoming a greater problem. He lists the following as improvements that are required:

1. Bolting of the hanging wall during stoping.

2. Mechanisation of rock bolting during development.

3. Introduction of mechanised mining equipment for development in low-dip orebodies.


Most of the data on current operations was provided by Mr. Vitaliy Ivanovitch Popov, deputy director of personnel and social welfare, Pechenganikel, and Mr. Alexander A. Baranov, mine superintendent, Severny mine. We are very grateful for their cooperation and interest in providing information. Mrs. A.M. Bergstrom of Kiruna Truck kindly provided the photographs.


1. 'Development trends of the non-ferrous metals industry in Eastern Europe,' Metallgesellschaft, December 1991.

2. 'Annual Review of the World Nickel Industry 1991,' Shearson Lehman Brothers, February 1991.

3. Jensen, Shabad, Wright, 'Soviet Natural Resources World Economy,' Chicago University Press 1983.

4. F.B. Howard-White, 'Nickel -- an historical review', Methuen & Co.

5. Joseph R. Boldt Jr. and Paul Queneau, 'The winning of nickel', Methuen & Co.

6. Vasilii V. Strishkov, 'The nickel and cobalt industry of the U.S.S.R. - problems, issues and outlook', unpub.
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Title Annotation:nickel mine in Kola Peninsula
Author:Chadwick, John
Publication:Mining Magazine
Date:May 1, 1992
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