Why in the Russian outback since Soviet times can not start the development of the "Trans-Baikal Klondike" and how "Eternal Udokan" passed from hand to hand, and eventually lost in the bowels of the companies of Alisher Usmanov.
The Udokan deposit was discovered in 1949. Colleagues were making fun of the prime minister, geologist Elizaveta Burova, the Soviet media wrote, saying that this is tantamount to discovering the depths on the Moon. The matter is that it is difficult to get to Udokan: when they built the Baikal-Amur Main Line, it was specially taken to the north - with a prospect for rich deposits of ore. However, the development of the "Copper Mountain" never began.
Reserves in the USSR were proud even under Khrushchev - supplies, and not development. Project documentation was prepared from the 1960s, but it did not reach the point: a cheaper alternative - simple deposits of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan - suited the Soviet authorities.
The Udokan deposit is one of the oldest deposits on the planet, the oldest of the copper sandstone deposits is its age of about 2 billion years. In terms of copper, it ranks third in the world, behind only two - Oy-Tolgoi in Mongolia and Pebble in Alaska. Udokan reserves are estimated at 20-25 million tons of copper, which is about 60% of the Russian reserves of this metal.
The issue reappeared in 1992, when the country needed its own raw materials base. The first tender for the right to develop the field was won by a little-known Russian-American Udokan mining company. By 1995, they even carried out a feasibility study for the development of the field, but by default, the company had lost its development license.
The Trans-Baikal Mining Company (BGK), which was founded by the government of the Chita Region (now part of the Trans-Baikal Region), the East Siberian and Trans-Baikal Railways, and Baminvest OJSC, became the beneficiaries of Udokan. The process reached the metallurgical tests of samples of Udokan ore, but the actual development of the matter has not come close.
The new owner
In 2008, they started talking about Udokan again. Udokan was claimed by the consortium of SMR Oleg Deripaska, ONEKSIM Mikhail Prokhorov, Norilsk Nickel, RZD and the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company. Later, they all abandoned the project for economic reasons. As a result, Mikhailovsky GOK got the license - the company belonged to "Metalloinvest" Alisher Usmanov. Specially for Udokan, the company created a subsidiary enterprise - the Baikal Mining Company. For the construction of infrastructure and development of the field, Metalloinvest has promised to create a consortium with the state corporation Rostekhnologii.
At the dawn of the first economic crisis, the license cost 15 billion rubles. "Metalloinvest" promised to send to the development of the field more than 100 billion rubles. In accordance with the terms of the tender, in seven years the GOK had to produce at least 36 million tons of ore (in the USSR it was planned even more - 50 million tons). Construction of the hydrometallurgical complex on the basis of the Udokan deposit was to begin in 2010, in 2016 the enterprise promised to reach the designed capacity of 474 thousand tons of cathode copper per year.
The winner of the auction did not sign the license for a long time and did not pay the rest of the fee - 10.5 billion rubles. Sources Russiangate in BGK explain: Usmanov expected to start developing Udokan with the help of state-owned banks. In fact, he was going to buy a state loan for state money - how often people who made a fortune in the 1990s did.
There is no money
The Chinese fund Hopu Investments wanted to redeem 10% in 2014, having chosen the object of Norilsk Nickel for investment. The plan failed. In 2017, BGK announced: the development of Udokan will be attracted by the Russian Copper Company (RMC) Igor Altushkin. RMK can receive in the project a share of 50%.
The government saved Alisher Usmanov from having to explain for missing copper - in the fall of 2014 Rosnedra postponed the beginning of development of the Udokan deposit in 2021.
To the theme of Udokan, Alisher Usmanov himself suddenly turned. In his video response to the oppositionist Aleksey Navalny, he stated among other things:
"The only participation in the state auction was in 2008 at the Udokan deposit. The company paid $ 0.5 bn for the license. We spent the same amount on technical documentation and we will go out to develop the deposit, "the billionaire said.
Head of the development direction of the Russian division of the international mining and geological consulting group IMC Montan Andrey Tverdov notes that already at the initial stage the company will have to use high-performance equipment - it is expensive and difficult to install. Problems are added by nature itself - local relief will interfere with installation, and cold winter limits the possibilities for using hydraulic escalators.
Among other things, Transbaikalia is characterized by seismic activity. It is also up to the energy supply to decide. The expert notes that the deposit is unique in its structure, and there is no proven technology for industrial extraction of copper from such raw materials. At Metalloinvest, the development of the field was estimated at 20,000 workers. On the one hand, it is a plus for the Transbaikal, suffering from unemployment. The lack of infrastructure creates another problem - they do not want to go there. And in the settlements of the Kalarsky district, where the deposit is located, only 9.6 thousand people live. We need engineers and other technical specialists, with whom the problem is not only in Chita, but in Russia as a whole, says Andrei Tverdov.
In fact, Udokan does not move from his place. From time to time, regional authorities sign documents on cooperation of state institutions with the developer, but in reality nothing changes. In April 2016, the General Director of the Baikal Mining Company, Yuri Ryabov, said that in the near future, the stage of development of project documentation will begin. This stage Udokan has been held several times.
Perhaps it's not a matter of technical difficulties. Taking into account the volume of deposits since the 1990s, there are fears that the development of the field will bring down the prices in the market - not only will it level investments, but also create problems at the state level.
But while this problem is not terrible: the keys to the largest deposit in the hands of the government's trustee are Alisher Usmanov. And if someone decides to develop Udokan - it will be a political decision.