Wednesday 9 October 2019

Former director of Russian diamond mine found dead in prison cell.

The former director of a Russian diamond mine has been found dead in a prison cell, having apparently committed suicide. Alexei Burkser, who was in charge of the Mir Mine in Mirny in the Sakha Republic of the Russian Far East when a flood killed eight workers in August 2017, was remanded in custody on Monday 7 October 2019, along with the former chief engineer at the mine, after a preliminary ruling at a court ruled they were aware of the dangers of a flood at the time of the incident, as water had been seen entering the mine on a number of previous occasions. The two men were remanded in custody following a full trial, at which they could have faced a potential maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.

The town of Mirny in the Sakha Republic. The Mir Diamond Mine is top left. North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk.

The Mir Mine exploited a kimberlite pipe discovered in 1955, and excavated as an open pit mine from 1957 until 2004. Kimberlite pipes are produced by rapid volcanic intrusions carrying magma from the Earth’s mantle rapidly to the surface, often resulting in explosive phreatomagmatic eruptions (explosions caused by hot magma coming into contact with water). These pipes are considered high value economic resources due to the common occurrence of diamonds within them, formed from fragments of coal or plant material that get caught in the magma and are compressed as mineral crystals form in the cooling magma around them.

The mine was reopened as a deep pit mine, exploiting the kimberlite pipe beneath the original open pit mine. However the open pit is over a kilometre wide and about 1.7 km deep, and contains a lake with a volume of about 300 000 cubic meters. This means that constant pumping was required to keep the deep pit from flooding, and the failure of one of the pumps used led to the 2017 flood. The mine has not reopened since the incident.

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