ArmInfo. The process of extracting gold from ore using cyanide was developed in Scotland yet far in 1887. The first cyanide was used by the New Zealand company Crown Mines when operating the Karangahake mine. Today in the world, cyanidation is considered a safer alternative to amalgamation, which was previously the main method of gold recovery. As a result, cyanide has been used for about 120 years in the mining industry to extract gold. In Armenia, cyanide has been used in the mining industry for a long time, but Lydian will be the first company in Armenia to use cyanide in accordance with the principles of the International Cyanide Code. Despite this, negative feedback has been heard in the community about the use of cyanide and the company has been repeatedly criticized by environmental NGOs. Although, despite the high toxicity, after the introduction of the rules of the International Code of Cyanide use, in recent years, mining companies that joined the code did not report any problematic cases with cyanide. To clarify the situation and learn more about the process of cyanide management in Lydian Armenia, the correspondent ArmInfo talked with the chief metallurgist of the company John Fourie
John, could you please tell us what is the International Code of Cyanide Use? Was joining the company to the Code really necessary, and why?
In fact, the impuls for the introduction of the International Cyanide Management Code was the case of cyanide leakage in Baia Mare in Romania in 2000. As a result of the breakthrough of the dam, cyanide hit the nearby waters, which led to their large-scale pollution, and of course to the death of the fish. Although, it should be noted that more harm to the fauna of the river was brought not by cyanide itself, but by the illiterate use of chemical agents designed to neutralize cyanide. Nevertheless, as a result of the incident, a code was developed that provides, from an environmental point of view, the safe management of cyanide. The committee that worked on the creation of this code consisted of environmentalists, cyanide producers, mining and financed companies. That is, a diverse group within 2 years after the accident created this code. And in 2003 the Institute of Cyanide Management was founded, which monitored the implementation and implementation of the Code at enterprises and deposits. The Code itself includes rules and standards covering a full cycle of work with cyanide, starting from production, safe transportation and ending with liquidation after the closure of the deposit. In general, joining the Code is a voluntary initiative. And since Lydian Armenia has undertaken to follow the best international experience, we decided to join before the start of production. It is important to know that today in the mining sector only 6% of cyanide is used from the total produced volume, the rest is used in the manufacture of plastic, cosmetics and even salt.
And yet, some environmental NGOs criticize the use of cyanide, especially considering the proximity to the place of future production of settlements...
The nearest community, which is located at a distance of 1 km from the territory of the deposit and the site of heap leaching of gold from ore - is Gndevaz. And here it is necessary to take into account several facts. First, the heap leach method is a specially developed technology that was first used in the USA, in the state of Nevada in the 1960s, where communities were also located at short distances. Moreover, people themselves created these communities near the deposit, so that it would be more convenient to return home. Initially, this technology was provided for ore with a low gold content, to which traditional methods of extraction could not be applied. I certainly understand the concern, but I want to assure you that there should be no cause for concern. I worked for 10 years on different fields. We went on this platform every day. One of the main reasons for concern, I believe, is the issue of evaporation of cyanide into the air. However, here it is necessary to know that turning into a gas of cyanide becomes lighter than air, without spreading or accumulating. That is, cyanide has no cumulative effect - and without obstacles comes out of the body. In addition, cyanide is found in more than 800 plant species. In particular, the solution that we will use for leaching contains a low concentration of cyanide. And in any case, cyanide is a very unstable chemical element that decomposes very quickly. I will also add that in our technology, cyanide is significantly less than it is used in other industries, for example, in the manufacture of cosmetics.
And how will the transportation of cyanide be carried out? What security measures, according to the Code, will be implemented? And I think it will be interesting if you tell us about the process of cyanide storage in the company?
The international code for cyanide management has very strict requirements, in particular the first 2 of which relate to transportation and storage. In our case, we will work with cyanide in briquettes, which we will buy from producers-members of the Code, which is also a mandatory condition for ICMC. Why did we choose solid cyanide? In the event of an accident, even if the machine turns over, cyanide does not come into direct contact with water - it is hermetically sealed. The road itself must also undergo an audit and obtain the appropriate certification confirming the safety of this transport site. In addition, the company involved in the transportation of cyanide should also be a member of ICMC. And the transportation process itself is a protected procedure. In particular, according to the requirements of the Code, an accompanying car is ahead of the car with cyanide, followed by a car of the Ministry of Emergency Situations with the specialists of rapid reaction, who have undergone appropriate retraining.
If we talk about the storage of cyanide specifically in our case - cyanide will be in the production cycle all the time, without leaving the process of heap leaching. This will be a closed process, which is protected by special designed layers. Although other mining programs provide for the release of certain substances into the environment.
How will the issue of cyanide management be handled in Lydian Armenia? For example, within the conditions of seismic activity?
Of course, we took into account the problem of seismic activity before we began to design the construction of our plant and a platform for heap leaching of gold from ore. We carried out relevant studies, including climatic conditions, etc. Because we are still planning to build and we must be sure that the conditions correspond to the peculiarities of this area. And accordingly, all engineering solutions for the design of all units and buildings in the mine, including the heap leach site, are strong and designed for the appropriate conditions.
John, and who will implement the instant measurements of the presence of cyanide residues in the soil and in the water? Ecologists of the company or invited independent experts from the company?
During the operation of the deposit, as is known, cyanide does not leave the closed cycle and the cyanide solution is used all the time in the process, so that cyanide is not released into the soil and water. In order to prevent cyanide from entering the environment, special sensors will be installed that will detect even the slightest leakage. It should be noted that cyanide will contain gold and it is in the company's interest not to allow the slightest leakage both for environmental and economic purposes. It is for this reason that the heap leach system has been improved for years. All operations will be carried out by the company, but as a project with international financing, an independent independent audit of works is already being conducted in Amulsar.
And what about the closure of the mine facility? How will this process take place?
Following the requirements of ICMC, we need to specify those preliminary funds that will be used to close the field and completely clear of cyanide. We will work in accordance with the requirements of Armenian legislation, and in accordance with international standards. One of the conditions for ICMC is also to provide funds, for example, in the event of bankruptcy of the company. Therefore, ICMC member companies must provide appropriate funds prior to field development. In order to ensure that, in extreme cases, the third independent party assumes responsibility for the closure process. This is in effect, superinsurance. In our case, the closing process will proceed as follows. I have already said that cyanide is a rapidly decomposing substance and, when water is added, decomposes and leaves for several months. Upon closure, the quality of water that will be released by the company into the environment must comply not only with the requirements of the RA laws, but also with the ICMC. Eventually, after the completion of the production cycle, we will release water, which in terms of quality may be somewhat inferior to drinking water, but it will be fully suitable for irrigation.
You've probably heard that there are new innovative technologies in the mining industry, namely the technology of destruction, the complete neutralization of cyanide. They allow to significantly reduce the concentration, toxicity and possible negative impact of the chemical on the environment. Will such technologies be used in Lydian Armenia?
There are certainly fast technologies that could be used to neutralize cyanide. But we envisage resorting to them only in extreme cases. Similar methods for us serve, by and large, insurance. But, today, in my opinion, it is preferable in this case not to use other chemicals. Because the incident that occurred in Romania was due in large part to the non-use of cyanide, namely those additional chemicals that were used to neutralize cyanide. In general, the process of detoxifying cyanide by other substances should be fairly well managed and coordinated.
ArmInfo reference note: LydianArmenia is a subsidiary of British Lydian International, whose shareholders are large international institutional investors from the United States, Great Britain, and a number of European countries, including EBRD. The Amulsar project is the largest industrial project in Armenia today for the development of a gold deposit worth $ 370 million, which is also the largest investment in the country. In August 2016, the project was launched. Preliminary work has been carried out since 2006. The life of the Amulsar deposit will be 10 years and 4 months, an annual average of 200,000 ounces of gold is planned (about 10 million tons of ore). Within the framework of the Amulsar program, more than 1,400 workplaces have already been created in the process of construction (construction works will last about 2 years) and 650-700 workplaces are planned throughout the entire operation of the field. The company's shares are quoted on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Amulsar zalotonosnoe deposit is the second largest in Armenia.