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Russia's Arctic: The only place in Europe where one can find diamonds

Until the 1930s, nobody could imagine that diamonds might be found in Europe

ARKHANGELSK, March 12. /TASS/. Russia’s Arkhangelsk Region is the only place in Europe, where diamonds are found. The region has two deposits, which are developed actively. One of them is the Lomonosov field, which is some 100km from the region’s capital, Arkhangelsk.

A TASS correspondent went to the deposit to see how "a girl’s best friends" are found.

History of Arkhangelsk diamonds

It takes about a couple of hours to get from Arkhangelsk to the deposit named after Lomonosov. The deposit’s owner is Severalmaz, a part of Alrosa - the world’s leading diamond miner.

The road is crossing the scenic taiga. We stop at a checkpoint to be allowed to the field. All our belongings are inspected, like luggage at airports, then we are checked with an introscope, and then we undergo the breath alcohol test.

"Exhale into the breathelizer," the guard at the entrance tells us, waiting for the green light to appear. The deposit is an alcohol-free area.

Until the 1930s, nobody could imagine diamonds may be found in Europe. Geologists began to eye an option when construction of defense facilities began in Severodvinsk, though the exploration could begin only in the late 1960s. The kimberlite pipe, which could contain the hardest stones, was found along the White Sea. Here, the geologists also found diamonds’ companions pyropes, and eventually first diamonds were found much later - only in 1980 - in the amounts, which proved production there would be possible.

Exploration’s three stages

The time between the deposit was found to the first European diamonds was 25 years. Severalmaz’s Director General Andrei Pismennyi says it takes processing about one tonne of the ore to find one carat. The company nowadays produces about 4.2 million carats.

The production is in the pit. Before going down, we receive the security instruction: no approaching the vehicles, watch the feet - do not slip and do not take anything off the ground. Everyone wears a helmet, and a Kamaz heavy truck takes us down to the pit’s middle, from where the scale becomes more than evident. The pit is about 130 meters deep.

"We are in the pit of the Karpinskogo-1 pipe - it is not the biggest pipe, and the pit’s diameter is about 800 meters, while its target depth would make 320 meters," the director said. "The hydro-geology conditions here are complicated: the water inflow is about 400 cubic meters an hour. If you look at the pit’s bottom - pump stations are working down there."

On the pit’s bottom we see the kimberlite - the soil, which contains diamonds. It is greenish. Huge excavators are digging it out, and from the top, where we are, the giant diggers and trucks look like toys. Every truck carries 100 tonnes of ore at a time.

The Arkhangelskaya pipe’s pit is even bigger - its diameter is about one kilometer, and the depth is almost 200 meters already, though it would go down for about another 200 meters. Here, we have to look out the excavator on the slide. Next to the pit we see the equipment, used at the deposit in the very beginning - the truck’s wheel is taller than a man, and the modern trucks, working there now, are even bigger.

Clothes off, clean boots on

The pits are not fenced off: "when you walk along the road, finding a diamond is next to impossible," the mining plant’s Chief Engineer Denis Gerasin says with a smile. As for the factory - it is surrounded by a solid fence, barbed wire on top, and visitors are never unattended there. "The staff observe the ‘naked regime’ here," he said. "They take off clothes, pass checking, then change clothes before entering the shop, and on the way back - the procedure is the same."

We are not allowed to touch anything inside the shop, nor lifting anything off the floor. "Everything, with what we are working here, sticks to the footwear," we are told, and thus, at the exit we brush soles with a special device.

The mining plant receives 450 tonnes of ore every hour. At first, it is crushed, and then goes to big classifying spirals, where unwanted soil is removed - from received 450 tonnes, about 500 kg undergo the diamond search. "Diamonds luminesce, and in X-rays they begin shining," Severalmaz’s Deputy Director General Vitaly Fortygin said.

Unfortunately nobody is allowed to touch diamonds at the plant. They are exposed under the glass. "Here are the diamonds, produced within recent 24 hours, and the biggest is of 63 carats," a worker told us, adding on the black velvet we could see about 3,000 carats. "We are not exposing the little ones here, though."

The stone of 63 carats is of a round shape, but it is really very difficult to imagine it may become later on a shining sparkling diamond. The second biggest stone of 40 carats is a rhombus. "Our diamonds are round, very few are octahedrons (having eight sides bounded by eight regular triangles - TASS), rather more frequent are rhombic dodecahedrons (of 12 sides - TASS) which means they produce more final diamonds," Fortygin said. "Anyway, every deposit is unique."

Amid transparent stones the yellow, blue and purple are shimmering in bright light. "Those are not many, but still we have crystals of different colors," the director general said. "Formerly, those were not used, but now the price has jumped, especially in China and India - the market wants color diamonds."

Vitaly Fortygin sneers at our question about artificial gems. "Women can understand fairly well a difference between real fur and artificial fur, and the price difference - the same is about diamonds." Andrei Pismennyi confirmed the technologies in making artificial gems were progressing. "It is true, that synthetic gems are more expensive, especially big ones," he added. Severalmaz’s experts say modern technologies tell synthetic gems from natural stones, and besides, technologies may trace routes of natural stones from the pit to the shop.

Future of European diamonds

The company told TASS it would develop the deposit at least to 2043. The pipes contain ore sufficient to work for as long as to 2035, and then the miners will move 5-6km northwards to the Lomonosovskaya and Pionerskaya pipes to continue digging out the Arkhangelsk diamonds.