You don't need to go to Poland: an enterprise with 700 workplaces is to launch in Zhytomyr region
Developed infrastructure, high-paying jobs, comfortable living. That's what launching an enterprise will give the Olevsk district of the Zhytomyr region providing work and a decent salary for about 700 employees. At least, the director of the Perha Mining Company Viktor Tanai is sure of it.
In the interview, he debunks the myths about the potential damage to the environment, talks about the many stages of inspections and production, and doesn't forget about the most important thing–unique and valuable beryllium, developed and processed only by 3 countries. And Ukraine can take a leading position in this ambitious ranking.
– What is beryllium, and why is this metal so popular today?
There are many beryllium minerals, more than 50 of them, and we can't say it's very rare. The issue is different. It's "scattered" in the earth's crust, and it's rare when there are many of it in one place (such as the beryllium ore deposit). According to estimates by the US Geological Survey, the world now has a balance of about 2.2 million tons of beryllium in the metal. If we imagine that somewhere the ore contains figuratively 1%, and 99% are rocks, then the metal is 2.2 million tons.
– What makes it so special, and where is it used?
Beryllium has several unique properties: strength, chemical resistance, lightness, heat resistance. The melting point of beryllium is almost 2600 degrees. Beryllium alloys have unique properties. It's worth remarking that the working springs in any liable mechanism contain metals, including beryllium: from the famous Swiss watches to the springs of large railway locomotives.
Suffice it to say that in a heavy aircraft such as a Boeing or a plane of a similar class, more than 1,000 parts are made of beryllium bronze. Plus, beryllium is unique because it can reflect and absorb neutrons, so it's an indispensable material in manufacturing nuclear reactors (used to slow down the reflection of neutrons) and especially small reactors (for ships, icebreakers, submarines, etc.). That is, the scope of beryllium is very wide, from alloys, metallurgy (beryllium steel, beryllium bronze, beryllium aluminum), and to pure beryllium, used as a structural material.
Rocket engines, rocket heat reflectors are the applicable scope in modern high technology, it's the material of the XXI century.
– How much beryllium is mined in Ukraine, what's Ukraine's position, and is there a shortage of this material?
Presently, Ukraine doesn't extract beryllium. There are a total of 3 countries in the world that have a full cycle of beryllium production: from ore to metal. These are the United States, China, and Kazakhstan, as the successor to the technologies of the Soviet Union. But Ukraine is unique because Ukraine has scientific developments in beryllium technologies. At one time, in the Soviet Union, a special center was established at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, which dealt with beryllium technologies. It still exists at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. It's the "Beryllium" center. These are quite successful enterprises, and there's a serious and solid scientific base in Ukraine. In any case, at the time when beryllium ore processing enterprises were set up in the Soviet Union for producing beryllium metal, scientific support took place here in Ukraine. There was no production.
– Ukraine wants to start mining beryllium for the first time. Attempts to develop beryllium were made in the 1970s in an ore field in the Zhytomyr region. But what went wrong then?
Everything went like that. There were no attempts to develop this deposit as an industrial one. According to the exploration requirements for such deposits, an experimental mine was built to make sure that this deposit existed. The exploration work resulted in knowing there were actual deposits. Confirmation was required for the ultimate protection of the reserves and for placing them on the balance sheet. That is, extracting part of this ore, conducting technological tests to make sure that beryllium can be obtained from this ore.
The deposit's uniqueness isn't that it's large or small. The uniqueness is that it's the only deposit on the planet represented by the mineral called genthelvite. Everywhere in the world, beryllium is mainly mined from other types of ores, and here nature has so ruled that the mineral genthelvite was found in fairly high concentrations in the ores of the Perzhanske deposit and the main mineral-bearing beryllium is genthelvite.
– How will the extraction be carried out? How safe is it for people?
We received a license. In a special permit, we were allowed an "underground method of extracting minerals." Therefore, we're limited and obliged to adhere to the underground method of mining. I want to dispel the myth that beryllium mining is dangerous. Beryllium in minerals is safe. Moreover, jewelry aquamarine or jewelry emeralds are just minerals that contain beryllium. Due to certain chemical impurities, they acquire their unique color and transparency. Suppose aquamarine is green-blue and emerald is juicy green. Therefore, any woman is happy to wear jewelry made of the mineral containing beryllium. That is, it's completely safe in this form. Moreover, in Ukraine, we were mining jewelry topaz and beryl in the area of Volodarsk-Volynsky (modern Khoroshev, Zhytomyr region, ed.). That is, Ukraine's subsoils are quite rich in this mineral. I don't know how the situation is now, but this extraction was carried out in the seventies and eighties in Soviet times.
Therefore, the mineral itself is safe. Beryllium alloys are also completely safe. But in beryllium metallurgy, when beryllium vapor evaporates, or in mechanical metal-working, when metal dust is released into the air, beryllium in the form of these vapors or dust is harmful to the human body and health and can cause disease (so-called berylliosis). But it may happen only when working with metal.
And yes, we'll extract this ore, extract the mineral and take it out for processing. Hydrometallurgical processing will be elsewhere. There's no technical base for this in the Zhytomyr region. Therefore, there are absolutely no risks for the environment or the local population. Moreover, it'll be an underground ore mining enterprise, i.e. we'll have a tiny production complex on the surface.
– How to protect employees?
Contact with this ore is safe. As for further processing, they're working with it. The key thing is to follow safety rules. Kharkiv has been working with beryllium for decades.
– What will happen to the stone? Processing, sale?
They don't work with genthelvite anywhere in the world, because it simply doesn't exist in industrial quantities. Therefore, we'll have a full cycle of beryllium production, from ore to metal products. But I'm sure it won't be in the Zhytomyr region. However, I stress that it'll happen in Ukraine.
Our task is to create a full-cycle enterprise. Ukraine has a chance to take a leading position in the world not only in mining but also in material processing. Especially when you consider that Ukraine's scientific base for processing beryllium is solid.
– What benefits will the locals get?
The major advantage that the local population can get is a working enterprise that will create about 700-800 jobs, at least. It's an enterprise with a continuous work cycle, that's why numerous workers are needed. It's a fairly high-paying industry. If you take working specialties, metallurgist or miner, it's one of the highest-paid professions. People will get permanent jobs for decades. We understand that if there are working enterprises in the region where people make a living, then this money will stay there, shops and cafes will work, and the infrastructure will be better. Young people won't have to leave their families, go to work somewhere in Poland or the Czech Republic. Working at home, getting a decent salary, and not having to go anywhere. We all understand that part of the taxes remains in the local budget, pumping up the local budget and possibly financing local social programs.
By the way, if we talk about social issues, our company hasn't yet extracted a single gram of ore, but during the time we're working on this project, we've already transferred about 25 million UAH for social needs in the Zhytomyr region. Especially on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic; we've provided considerable assistance to hospitals as well. These include ventilators and protective equipment for medical staff.
Many locals remember the Soviet times when the expedition worked there.
They worked there, received a decent salary, and lived normally. There were shops, culture, services, etc. And you go to these villages now–poor, unhappy. Roughly speaking, abandoned and forgotten. Well, if there's no street lighting in the village of Perha, what else to talk about? There's no normal first-aid post. In the village of Yurovo, the school is with stove heating. We've arranged heating in one school and plan to install heating in the school of Yurovo. Imagine, every morning, before students come to school, 21 stoves need to be heated with firewood, so that the classrooms were more or less warm. So these are the conditions of these people's social life. Therefore, if we come there, we're naturally interested that those people working for us live there with dignity.
So our arrival for them is a light at the end of the tunnel, by and large, I think.
– So, will there be help?
Well, of course, we come to work in this region, not just for a short time; we come for decades because there'll be enough reserves for several decades. That is, we're interested in the people who'll work for us to live well and comfortably.
Well, here's an example. I think that in two weeks, we'll start installing street lighting in the village of Perha, which the community didn't have so far. There's already a project. Now the new mayor of Olevsk and his team and I have already discussed this project, worked out a construction contract, and found a contractor who'll do it. We'll finance it, and I think literally in a month, we'll do lighting in this village. I invite everyone to make a story on this process.
– At what stage is the development of the enterprise now, when is it planned to recruit people?
There's a certain production logic in all actions and we cannot skip any stages and start recruiting people before we need them. By and large, we're already involving the local population in the work that is currently underway. We carry out drilling work, select material for technological research, and employ 6 local people as assistants on drilling rigs; they receive a salary. The company carrying out drilling is satisfied with them and is ready to involve them in a work on other objects and so on. The further the project progresses, the more people will be needed.
– How long will it take to reach full capacity?
3 years. We'll spend a year only on technological research. We send the test core to foreign laboratories and will test the technology. For the record, technological research of this ore was conducted in Soviet times. These were 1974-75. It is clear that now there are other technical possibilities, other environmental requirements for these processes. Therefore, we conduct research in the world's most advanced laboratories. It'll take a year. Then, 9-10 months of designing. 3 months for protection, examination, etc. Without expertise, no one will allow us to implement the project. And then, another year will be required for construction. That is only 3-3.5 years.
– Is none of the stages missed?
And we can't miss anything. There are legal requirements and design standards. We won't leap over them. All our actions are carried out strictly within the legislative field and we try to do everything as correctly as possible because the public and environmental organizations pay close attention to this project. Therefore, we try to insure ourselves having certain licensing requirements. There's a work program. We've ordered environmental monitoring of the territory besides these requirements, and the Institute of Geochemistry is doing this work for us.
– What place can mining take in the region's development?
I can't be responsible for the entire area. I know that our project will be very profitable for the Olevsk district. Residents of many villages have already felt this. We did social things there, for example, the school was renovated.
When there's a working enterprise, there's work for people and taxes; it's a great benefit. We can see the problems we have in the country; businesses have closed, people are no longer needed, forced to go to work abroad and leave their families. It's a social tragedy. On this "island," we'll try to make sure that people don't have problems, and they feel comfortable and live with dignity, as they should.
– Will foreign partners be involved?
The issue of attracting foreign partners isn't as simple as it seems. Let's call a spade a spade, we're a warring country.
And while there's external aggression, no one wants to invest their large capital here. Too much risk. Nevertheless, I'm sure that such global projects as ours will be interesting for investors, and at some stage, the investor can emerge. On which one? Honestly, even at this stage, I wouldn't be in a hurry to attract an investor, because the more we go in this direction, the more expensive we become. Now an investor can come in with little money. I think in 2 years, it'll be a completely different level of investment. Now it's all funded by Ukrainian business.
– What will be the contribution to the economy?
There will be a contribution. But I can't indicate it in exact numbers now, because we've just ordered a pre-project feasibility study for constructing this enterprise. We're working it out. When we get data on technological tests, the yield of concentrate, losses in enrichment, production, etc., then we'll have more accurate economic indicators.
And now we have a stage of pre-project development, but it's no longer done to calculate the economy because we roughly understand it by preliminary calculations. We have some difficulties in working in that region. The major difficulty is the proximity of the Polissia Reserve and its protected areas. I want to say that about a quarter of the deposit is under the reserve's territory. That's why there will be underground mining. Therefore, we do pre-project development to determine the master plan of the enterprise: where the primary facilities will be located, calculate safety zones, sanitary zones. So that we don't harm the reserve, and there's no conflict of interest.
– Were there ore samples?
No, they didn't survive. At one time the deposit was developed in Soviet times, an enormous amount of work was done. Only the calculation of reserves included the drilling of 268 thousand running meters of wells.
A special mine was built not for the extraction of industrial ore, but only to check that these reserves were there. Enormous work was done. But at one time they decided that since the deposit was thoroughly explored, storing samples and the core wasn't sensible, so they decided to dispose of it, destroy it. And it was thrown away. As we were told, in the area of the village of Perha, the road was paved with this material. As a result, we're now left without this core, forced to re-drill, get this material so that it can be sent for research.
We lost a lot of money on this, but it's a shame we lost not so much money as time. It'll take us almost a year just to repeat what was once done. If the core had been saved, this problem wouldn't exist. We'd take and send it to the laboratory.
– Will Ukraine lose the battle for minerals to its citizens?
No, Ukraine doesn't lose to its citizens, and Ukrainian legislators once made mistakes in this area. One of them is when lands were distributed over deposits, including those of state importance. Although these deposits were well-known, they were on balance.
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