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Academician Nikolai Pokhilenko on the search for diamond deposits and the preservation of the Russian science gold fund - EastRussia | Interview

Irkutsk
Ulan-Ude

Blagoveshchensk
Chita
Yakutsk

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Vladivostok
Khabarovsk

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Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

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Moscow

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Deep Intensity Intellect

Academician Nikolai Pokhilenko, Director of the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy. V.S. Sobolev, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the East Russia correspondent about the search for diamond deposits and the preservation of the gold fund of Russian science

Deep Intensity Intellect
- Nikolai Petrovich, there was information that a diamond deposit was discovered in Kamchatka during gold mining and are going to develop it. It's true? Do such projects have prospects?
- This is a "duck", and our institute is ready to refute it. Although the experts and so everything is clear, and the public loves the sensation and still believes in any fiction. In the gold vein, we sometimes observe the so-called "clogging" of technical diamonds when drilling with diamond crowns - small inclusions, practically a crumb of synthetic diamonds of poor quality. All serious prospects in the diamond industry of Russia are connected with the Siberian platform: from the Irkutsk region and Baikal to the Arctic Ocean, from Lena to the Yenisei. In the middle of this vast territory is the Tunguska Syneclise, where search works are difficult.

According to our data, the results of new exploration work prove that there are areas in the north and north-east of the Siberian Platform where prospects for identifying large indigenous deposits are very high, which is extremely important for the development of the raw material base of the country's diamond mining industry. There is a high probability that new large deposits of not only diamonds but also precious metals, as well as giant rare-earth metal deposits, will be discovered in the poorly studied territories of the Arctic zone. The only "but": from the year 1991, the government has cut financing of almost all serious exploration programs, ten times compared to 1980-mi years. We actually "sit on a treasure box", hanging our legs - and we do not have the money to make a key to it.

- Institute of Geology and Mineralogy. V.S. Sobolev, whom you manage, within the framework of the state contract, was able to study a number of northern territories and show the presence within them of more than 145 million carats of estimated diamond resources. IGM SB RAS sends several expeditions to the field every year. Recently, the media reported that, in conjunction with Rosgeology, your institute will be exploring seven promising sites in the north of Yakutia, and under this it is planned to allocate about 120 million rubles. for three years. Is not that enough?
- Unfortunately, this is not enough. Especially when compared with what funds are invested in geological research by the same Australians or Canadians. I participated in a number of projects that began to give returns only after an order of large investments - when investors were already close to despair. These are really dramatic stories, can you believe me as a direct participant - with heart attacks at the heads of companies, with great risk, with a long, hard research work, when you are painfully thinking, did you still make a mistake in your "ideal" calculations ... A happy ending here may well not happen. I have to say that I was lucky several times when we managed to solve a very complicated search enigma, which was too tough for our colleagues from De Beers and Canadian companies, and to "calculate" a prospective deposit of a new genetic type with a non-standard composition Diamond-bearing rocks and unusual geometry of the ore body. Briefly, for example, in Canada, spending 36 million dollars, we managed to put on the balance deposit with reserves of 28,5 billion dollars. But this does not always happen. The fact is that not every kimberlite pipe is suitable for industrial diamond mining: these are only about 2 percent of the total. Of the nearly one and a half thousand kimberlite pipes discovered in Russia, only diamond 30 possessed increased diamond content. Therefore, research should go systematically, scale, on a large territory. However, the opposite is true - over the past decades we have seen the catastrophic consequences of "saving" on exploration. The technical and personnel resources of state enterprises have decreased tens of times, the branch science has degraded (and where can it go if there is no possibility of conducting systematic thematic and applied research?). Almost completely eliminated thematic expeditions and parties in regional geological associations.

Compare yourself. On the territory of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), whose area is equal to six territories of France, in the PGO "Yakutskgeology" in the 1980-ies. Worked 30,5 thousand employees, including doctors and candidates of science. To date, there are just over a thousand people, thematic units have disappeared "as a class". There is no one and there is nowhere to work. But the word "there is no need" I can not add to this phrase. Just the need for large-scale and systematic geological research is now enormous.

- And can such costs be taken on by a large business in the expectation of future superprofits?
- Large mining companies carry out geological exploration for projects in which the adoption of an investment decision is associated with minimal risk. Simply put, they further investigate the areas for which they have a license, near existing enterprises. As a rule, they do not enter new territories. It is more profitable for them to develop assets abroad, which we see on the example of AK ALROSA, which has a great interest in Angola and Botswana. All this creates very serious problems: the general condition and quality of the mineral resource base of Russia cannot be objectively assessed right now. To determine the strategic directions in which it would be worthwhile to concentrate meager budget financing — as well. But the domestic mineral resource base cannot be changed to foreign for a variety of reasons, from considerations of national security to the widest range of Russian mineral resources. In the new technologies, literally the entire periodic table is used. Photonics, microelectronics, nanotechnology, new materials, aircraft and rocket science, much more - all this requires an appeal to raw materials, which just yesterday did not arouse interest. One should take into account what is needed not only now, but also in the medium and long term. Prospective needs must be adapted to the demands of the recently approved Presidential Decree Strategy for the Scientific and Technological Development of the Russian Federation before 2035, as well as the rapidly evolving needs of the world market.

Already more than once and not twice about these problems we talked in the highest offices. The Strategy for the Development of the Mineral and Raw Materials Base of the Russian Federation is being developed up to 2030 year, in which I and the leading employees of our Institute, experts of the Institute of Economics and Industrial Engineering of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences take a direct part. But everything that is written in it, and will remain on paper, if the geological exploration does not allocate sufficient funds. Now we together with the general director of "Rosgeology" Roman Panov and his staff are working to bring to a normal state the version of this Strategy and, most importantly, to achieve its implementation.

- Maybe you should not reinvent the wheel - and take as a basis the principles by which other countries with similar fields conduct geological exploration of their prospective reserves?
- No, it is impossible to use models of geological services of Canada, the USA or Australia in Russia. In these countries, a completely different legal system, financial capabilities, the stock market and everything else. Mining companies are responsible for the reproduction and development of the mineral resource base. At us now the problem is how much sharply - how to divide responsibility spheres at a stage of prospecting works between the state and extracting companies. So far, the costs and the real output of the work are absolutely incommensurable.

Use the personnel and technology of mining companies in geological exploration is possible within the framework of public-private partnership. Theoretically yes. And in practice, any such projects can be counted on the fingers, they are realized long and hard. First of all, because the goals of the state and the companies are still different, especially in a strategic sense. Companies (which is logical) must quickly get a return on the invested funds, for the long term it simply does not work for them. Therefore, as a result, in the territories with complex geological-search conditions, the activity of research tends to zero - despite all their "prospects".

I still bitterly admit that in the 1988 year, the same ALROSA corporation could “enter into a share” in one of the extremely profitable projects, when we managed to help Canadians discover the large diamond deposit mentioned above. It would have required investments of about 50-60 million dollars at the first stage, then - apparently - about 700-800 million investments in the construction of the village and the factory. Then ALROSA would become the operator of the project and would have about 70% of its profits. But the Russian side did not dare. Vyacheslav Shtyrov, who then headed AK ALROSA, honestly said - I do not believe. And I remembered that there is already investment experience, for example, in Angola, where the company spent about 250 million dollars, and the annual return was only 18-20 million. As a result, Canadians launched this project without us in 2008. There, 63 million tonnes of cool ore supplied to the balance with diamonds of excellent quality, and this is only about 40% of the approved forecast resources, the mine is designed for at least 45 years in terms of balance reserves. But it now belongs to the corporation "De Beers". Thanks to our work, there was a settlement for 750 jobs and another 5 of thousands of people associated with it were provided with work. But - alas - in Canada, and without our participation now.

- Are there any chances to open something like this in Yakutia?
- The reserves of the Yakutian deposits are not bad. But their quality is somewhat depressing. Here there are deep horizons of already known kimberlite pipes: Mir, Udachnaya, Zarnitsa, Aikhal. There mining operations are required at great depth. There is a shallow laying pipe "Jubilee", where mining is carried out in a career way, there is a chance that it will remain profitable even for underground mining. No new large tubes have been found in the last two decades. Basically, because the work in the new territories is almost simply not carried out.



Meanwhile, together with Rosgeology, we continue to work to substantiate the prospects for discovering large-scale indigenous diamond deposits in the north and northeast of Yakutia. There are several very promising areas. Together with colleagues from Australia, we conducted a reassessment of the age of stabilization of the region and conducted dating of more than 300 zircon grains from this region, which made it possible to reliably prove the Archean age of stabilization, which radically changed the assessment of its prospects for the better. There is a high probability that there can be found deposits no worse than "Peace" or "Successful." Only that's what is insulting and personally I do not understand. We know what to do and how to do it. Our research can bring a huge profit to the country. But as in the 90-ies it was not clear whether we need the state or not, and now these thoughts constantly overpower me.


And, after all, despite all the difficulties, our academic institutes of geological structure are not only preserved, but also in many ways able to give odds to both corporate science and foreigners. 14 academic institutions of the Russian Federation are actively working in Siberia and the Far East, two in Novosibirsk, Yakutsk and Irkutsk, as well as in Kyzyl, Ulan-Ude, Chita, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Blagoveshchensk, Magadan and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Here there are still specialists who have vast experience in regional studies (including the Arctic ones), work with a wide range of minerals, and develop new effective methods for forecasting and evaluating deposits. They have a lot of successful search projects that have been crowned with discoveries of new large deposits not only in Russia, but also abroad - in Canada, Mongolia, Vietnam, Morocco, Guinea and other countries. There are unique modern equipment and analysts of the highest qualification. Why wait until we lose it all?


- You yourself worked for a long time abroad. Did not you have a thought of staying there forever?
- It so happened that since 90-ies I worked in Russia and abroad, in the structure of our academic institute, and in foreign scientific and geological exploration organizations. You can not explain why. In 90-ies, I had to keep my team of employees, and we went to the field work in Canada in the summer. In Russia, then we were not needed by anyone, we did not pay money, we all ran out. And there our specialist could earn an apartment for one field season. Since 1994, I started working with Canada, and it lasted until 2007 year, when I was elected director of our Institute. In addition, seven years (1991-1997), I also worked in Washington, at the Carnegie Institution. It turned out that I spent every year in America about three to three and a half months, in winter and spring, from February. And then he returned back to Russia. I somehow calculated - I have 41 in my field season in the Arctic regions. 28 seasons here in Yakutia, 13 in Canada. I simply could not do without "fields". And without his institute in Novosibirsk, too, could not. I was offered to stay in Washington, to unite two laboratories, which were headed by two American academics. The Carnegie Institution is a super-prestigious research center - 190 employees, seven Nobel laureates (we, geologists, they do not have a pair, we have no Nobel Prizes). I was given the opportunity to bring two or three employees from Novosibirsk with me and start work. I refused. After we opened a large field in Canada with our help, I received an offer to stay there as the company's first vice president. He also refused. When I was elected director of IGM. V.S. Sobolev, Canada had to say goodbye finally, even though I lost in wages every five. But the institute was more important a hundredfold. There is an entirely different logic.

You see, not everything is measured in dollars or rubles. My teacher is academician Vladimir Stepanovich Sobolev, whose name the institute now wears. Shortly before his death, I promised him that I could prepare a group in our Novosibirsk University for the geology of diamond deposits, in 1983 year it was created, I read there special courses on methods of forecasting, mineralogy of diamonds, other well-known geologists also read a number of courses necessary for this specialization etc. I selected the most capable students on the third course, eight people, they passed special "diamond" training and practice. He took the best ones to his laboratory in Novosibirsk, more than 40 people worked there. Throwing them would be a betrayal. With me in this case was completely solidary wife - she is also a geologist, we work in one "bundle", she was invited to America with me. We went, looked around, appreciated the excellent working conditions ... and said: "It's time to go home!". There are things that I can not cross - and I do not really want to. To live and work it is necessary where your homeland is, small and big.

Now we are working hard. To my work at the academic institute, I had to add also deputy duties, and much more, with science related only indirectly. Time now is what you want-you do not want to, but you have to deal not only with pure geological research, but also with economics or politics.

- And an independent search for investors for new research, if there is not much hope for the state?
- And this, too, of course. I already had several meetings with the heads of large companies, which showed their interest. Let's see how things go further, I do not intend to make a guess. In addition, four months ago the chairman of the board of "Rosgeology" Roman Panov invited me to enter as his deputy on solid minerals in the scientific and technical council of the holding. Honestly, I do not know what he was guided by. I am still a narrow specialist in diamonds, and the sphere of competence of my section of the Council is everything except oil and gas: gold, rare earth metals and much more, which I am not so versed in. I hope that my experience will be useful in what Academician Vladimir Stepanovich Sobolev called "two semicircles of one spiral": a combination of fundamental science and applied research. I have always worked not only within the walls of the institute, but also with search engines, production workers. Cooperating with them, you get access to a material that can not be otherwise received - this time. And secondly, there is mutual enrichment. You pass on to them your knowledge, you together come to a new level and you pull yourself "spirally" higher and higher. It is very important to be able to combine all this. It seems to me that we do not have such things on a country scale.

- Scientific institutes constantly complain about “personnel shortage”, “brain drain”, that the scientific community is aging. And how do you save your not even a gold, but a diamond intellectual reserve and by whom do you replenish it?
- We deal not only with diamonds, we are the largest institute of geological profile in the country (in total there are thirty-one in the FAO system). According to the rating of scientific achievements among all academic institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, we are in the top twenty, only physicists, nuclear scientists, genetics and others are ahead of us. Young people are actively coming to us. But, it also happens that we support it in every possible way. To beggarly - I will not find another word - postgraduate scholarship we add quite a decent salary from a special fund. At the end of 2008, at the height of the crisis, I said to the head of the laboratories: those who will pay the post-graduate students less than 15 thousand will be punished - they themselves "beat the ruble". Now in our institute the average salary of a research fellow is about 60 thousand. The federal budget closes less than half of the salary amounts, the rest consists of numerous contracts and grants, including the fund of the President of the Russian Federation. Investments in intelligence are the most profitable for any country, this is an obvious thing. It is a pity that this has to be constantly explained, proved, and not always found understanding. But I definitely will not leave any attempts. Geologists - the people of the "field", stubborn, we do not deviate from our goals. Especially if they are sure that our forecasts are accurate.


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Nikolai Petrovich Pokhilenko was born 7 October 1946 year. He graduated from the Novosibirsk State University as an engineer-geologist-geochemist. Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences, Professor, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 2007 year - Director of the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy. VS Soboleva of the SB RAS. Since 2008, he has been a member of the Presidium of the SB RAS, a member of the Bureau of the Department of Earth Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, since 2013, he has been the vice-chairman of the SB RAS. Member of the American Geophysical Union and the Association of Industrialists and Prospectors of Canada. With 1968, he is engaged in scientific work, forecasting and prospecting for diamonds, he worked in Russia (Yakutia, Arkhangelsk Oblast), Canada, South Africa, Australia, Vietnam, India, China, USA and Algeria. In 1998, he opened a world-class diamond mine Snap Lake in Canada. Honored Geologist of the Russian Federation, he was awarded the medal "For Labor Distinction". Laureate of the International Diamond Prize. Hugo Dammet.