BARENTSBURG, Svalbard, Aug 23 (Reuters) - An Arctic Russian coal producer aims to begin reopening an abandoned mine at Grumant in the Svalbard archipelago in 2010 and sees production there of 500,000-600,000 tonnes per year from 2020, a mine manager said on Thursday.
Trust Arktikogul now produces 120,000 tonnes per year at Barentsburg, a Russian community of around 500 people, in Svalbard, a cluster of islands under Norwegian sovereignty in the Barents Sea, just 1,000 kilometres south of the North Pole.
The Barentsburg mine at 78 degrees North has coal in the ground that will last until 2020, mine director Boris Nagayk told a small group of reporters at the keyside at Barentsburg where a bulker bound for Spain was loading 22,000 tonnes.
The Grumant mine was closed in 1962 and the Russian state-owned company’s Pyramiden mine, shut in 1998. The village of Grumant, called Grumantbyen in Norwegian, and Pyramiden are now ghost towns.
“That will be reopened,” Nagayk said of the Grumant mine, which lies about 25 km northeast of Barentsburg.
“Perhaps we will start reopening it from 2010. It could produce 500,000 to 600,000 annually,” he said through an interpreter.
He said that the coal there would last 50-60 years, but the Barentsburg mine would remain the only production until the coal there is depleted in 2010.
Nagayk said it was not ruled out that the company may also reopen a closed coal mine further north at Pyramiden, also on Svalbard’s main island of Spitsbergen, where he said more than a million tonnes of coal was left in the ground. But he said there were no concrete plans to do that for at least 50 years.
He said no further exploration had been carried out at Pyramiden, but that the resource was probably bigger than what was known at the time of its closure.
The company’s scientists are working on an environmental impact assessment for the Grumant mine, Nagayk said, adding that a road that the company wants to build from Barentsburg to Grumantbyen could be “the only environmental problem.”
Grumantbyen is in the middle of valuable bird cliffs and the Norwegian administration in Svalbard wants to ensure mining does not disrupt the pristine nature, home to puffins, Arctic terns and other birds and wildlife such as seals and wildflowers.
Svalbard is run by Norway but Russia and all other parties to the 1920 Svalbard Treaty have rights to exploit the natural resources of the archipelago, Europe’s biggest wilderness.
Nagayk said Trust Arktikogul would use the planned road to transport workers and equipment, but the coal would be shipped by sea, so it would not add to the environmental burden.
The company has no plans to build a settlement at Grumantbyen, but he said that Barentsburg, where 230 of the 500 inhabitants are miners from Russia and Ukraine, could grow to a community of about 1,000 if the Grumant mine is revived.
The operations would still be small. The Svea coal mine of the Norwegian state-owned Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS on Svalbard produces around 3 million tonnes yearly, which is modest by coal-mining standards.