Far East Russia Unveils World’s Third Largest Deposits of Rare Earths
Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis
Russia’s Three Arc Mining together with its partners have announced the discovery of what is said to be the world’s third largest deposits of rare earths. The Tomtor deposits, located in Russia’s Yakutia Republic in Siberia, is one of the world’s three biggest by reserves, the Anglo-Russian mining company Polymetal, which owns a minority stake in the project, said on Monday.
“Tomtor confirmed its scale and grade as one of the premier niobium and rare earths deposits globally,” Polymetal CEO Vitaly Nesis said in a statement, citing the estimates made by ThreeArc Mining, which is developing the project.
The promising deposit is a key project that is expected to help in boosting output of rare earth metals in Russia. Domestic production of rare earths, which are vital for the defense sector, as well as for the manufacture of mobile phones and electric cars, will reportedly reduce the nation’s reliance on imports from China.
Niobium is used mostly in alloys, the largest part of it in steel such as that used in gas pipelines. A small percentage of the metal enhances the strength of the steel. Other applications of niobium include welding, nuclear industries, electronics, optics, and jewelry.
Polymetal, listed both on the London Stock Exchange and Moscow Exchange, owns a 9.1% stake in ThreeArc Mining. The company, founded in 1998, is the third primary silver producer globally, as well as being the largest silver and fourth-largest gold producer in Russia.
“The project team will now focus on completion of a bankable feasibility study, paving the way for the investment decision,” Nesis said.
Comprising half the area of the Russian Far Eastern Federal District, Yakutia (also known as the Sakha Republic) is the largest sub-national governing region in the world at 3,083,523 km2. Its capital city is Yakutsk.
Yakutsk is remote, with severe weather conditions, however, is now becoming integrated with the Russian national highway and rail network. The city is connected by the Kolyma Highway to Magadan, a port city on Russia’s eastern seaboard and thus connected to the Northern Sea Passage linking China and Europe via ports across the Arctic.
A railway line to the eastern bank of the Lena River permitted the start of passenger rail services between Yakutsk and the rest of Russia in 2019. The region is also served by Yakutia Airlines which runs small aircraft and light jets to other regionally remote areas, including Tomtor. The discovery of the rare earth deposits is likely to increase infrastructure investment into Yakutia and bring the area into Russian and Belt & Road interconnectivity.
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