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Far East movement of metallurgists

There are places where you want to return, and there are places where you want to stay. The Far East is one of them. Here, in the very heart of the Khabarovsk Territory, there is Amursk, where a unique high-tech enterprise, the Amur Hydrometallurgical Plant, is located.

Imagine a situation: a person was born, suppose - in a warm region. He graduated from high school, received a prestigious education. And at one point, he suddenly decides to move to the Far East. There, where in winter -40 is a common thing, where there is wild nature and an amazing feeling that you are "at the edge of the world."And he goes not just to the Far East, but to the city of Amursk, because gold concentrate is mined there and processed at one of the most technologically advanced enterprises in the country.

Far East movement of metallurgists
Photo: JSC Polymetal

How does Amursk attract qualified specialists? Is gold really produced here? What is the strength of a modern metallurgist? How it all began? In general, there are many questions. In order, let's try to figure it out together with our heroes.

Golden people

Day, or even night, at work of Natalia Kulikova for 10 years already begins with a complete detailed analysis of everything that happens at the enterprise. Without exaggeration, everything depends on her vigilance and concentration. Natalya is an operator of the hydrometallurgical workshop control panel. Works in shifts. It is her responsibility to monitor technical parameters, laboratory summaries of analyzes and a host of other indicators. Nine in the evening, the beginning of the shift. Change clothes, get a task, accept a post. We met with Natalia on the day of her professional "jubilee". Exactly 10 years ago, she came to the Amur Hydrometallurgical Plant.

Natalia Kulikova

- Almost all important milestones in the history of our company have already taken place in my time. I remember the beginning of construction. The first autoclave has already arrived. I remember how the workshops were built - they grew, one might say, before my eyes. Launch. Real production romance! - Natalya smiles.

However, there is also a lot of romance in how she herself ended up in metallurgy. The story is like a movie. I went to enter the company with a friend. The girlfriend did not enter. And Natalya - here she is. She studied safely in the direction of foundry.

- When I came to the Amur Hydrometallurgical Combine under construction, a group of young specialists was assembled, and we passed refresher courses - we additionally learned to be apparatchiks-hydrometallurgists. I took exams again. A person must always learn, otherwise he will not develop. I continue now. I read something, and the industry itself is dynamically improving, you need to keep up with the time. Something interesting and not entirely clear - I ask colleagues. All of them are wonderful, helpful people. And as passionate as I am. And this, in my opinion, is priceless. I think the main strength and pride of our enterprise is the team. They are, without exaggeration, golden people. I feel that we are one. Polymetal is like another family to me. Joint holidays - Fisherman's Day, Metallurgist's Day. It is felt that there is a collective spirit, we work with joy, and this is appreciated. I don’t know of any other enterprise where there would be such support for employees - payment for a kindergarten, a linguistic school for children, travel to the place of vacation once every two years, and from next year - every year. And, you know, as a girl, I am partial to gold. I hold a dore bar in my hands (dore - a gold-silver alloy obtained in gold deposits and sent to refineries for further purification - approx. Ed) - how much work, how much sweat, efforts! The result of the work of everyone who extracts concentrate, who is engaged in processing and extraction is soldered in it, and this, it seems to me, is the most precious alloy! 

From heaven to earth

The most incredible and bizarre twists of fate have brought our other heroes to the Far East. Eduard Denisov, head of the hydrometallurgical department of the AMMC, arrived in Amursk straight from sunny Uzbekistan, where he moved at the age of one with his family from Perm. Now I have already transported my parents to Russia.

- I remember when they were just starting to move, there were fears. Winters are cold, and in Uzbekistan we are not spoiled with snow. But what bribed me was the warmth of the people. People here in the harsh Far East are friendly. How to get somewhere? - they will not just tell, they will also conduct it, like this. And my first director called us, we worked together in Uzbekistan. He moved earlier, got involved in the then new Polymetal project, and called me. And as an argument - I sent a photo of a cozy small town of Amursk and ... cans of red caviar with a slice of black bread! So they greeted us.

Today Eduard will remember no, no, he dreamed of becoming a pilot. He raved about the sky, and even went to enroll in a specialized school, but due to some delays, he did not get to study. Waiting for an attempt the next year, I was looking for something to do with myself. And then - an additional recruitment was announced at the Polytechnic Institute. Destiny is not destiny, but he began to study the development of deposits. Then, in Uzbekistan, he worked at a hydrometallurgical plant. And I found the output of energy and the knowledge gained right here - in the Far East, which turned out to be at the forefront of the world extractive industry.

Eduard Denisov

- The technology of autoclave oxidation on gold has not been used in Russia before. Polymetal with the AGMK project is a pioneer in this regard. This is an enterprise specially designed for the processing of refractory ore concentrates. So we are working, one might say, at the forefront of progress! - says Edward.


But here, to make it clear to the reader who is not a metallurgist, you need a little background. Nine years ago, here in Amursk, for the first time in Russia, they solved the problem of extracting gold from concentrate of refractory ores. At the plant built from scratch, the autoclave method began to process raw materials from the large Albazinsky deposit. And we can say with confidence that this event has become a new starting point for the Russian gold mining industry.

What is an autoclave? The answer lies not on the surface, but precisely in the depths, from which gold is becoming more and more difficult to extract. The reserves of easily mined precious metal around the world are gradually being depleted. But in the so-called refractory ores - there is still a lot of it, but how to extract it?

Refractory ores are rocks that have long been a tough nut to crack for industrialists. In them, grains of gold a few microns in size are enclosed in a sulfide shell. The engineers had to solve the problem of how to make the production of metal from them cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

This is how the first autoclave in Russia appeared, and the first dore ingot, cast in 2012 - at the Amur Hydrometallurgical Plant. The technology has shown itself to be excellent. In 2018, AGMK achieved a record gold recovery rate of 97,5%.

Since 2019, the plant has begun processing refractory raw materials from Kazakhstan. In parallel, work was underway on the technology for extracting gold from double refractory ores.

- We have a full cycle at our enterprise - from concentrate processing to dore ingots. All this is done by a unique alloy of people, and this is perhaps the most interesting thing. If you take your current job, it's a constant brainstorming session! - Edward laughs. - AGMK was designed for processing concentrates from the Albazino and Mayskoye deposits (Chukotka Autonomous Okrug). Then gold began to come from other deposits. Each concentrate has its own temper - different impurities and other indicators. There is no way to set up the technology and go on a knurled one, every day is a battle! The ores are "abutting", we are winning. And from this - great pride. Pride in the company. Here they introduce the best world achievements of science and technology, here - dynamic development, and when you feel like a part of this large mechanism - this is pride! Today, we are, if not the only ones, then one of the few producers who have managed to achieve a gold recovery rate of over 96%. The opportunity to constantly learn, apply your knowledge - perhaps for a person it is even more expensive than gold! 


How to bake rolls

 Margarita Kuchumova is a young specialist at AGMK. Has been working for less than a year and has already been promoted to a master of the technical control department. A school with a gold medal, a university, where she was almost the only girl in the specialty "materials science" - with honors. But this is not unique. 

- I just work at the site where the dore bars are smelted! - the girl laughs. - My duty is to control the safety and quality of the products that our plant produces.

The story of how Margarita got to the plant is worth telling.

- I myself was born in Amursk, studied in the neighboring Komsomolsk-on-Amur. As in the proverb - where he was born, there he came in handy! I just realized that I wanted to work at Polymetal. And now, just having received a new, still crisp diploma in my hands, I come to the personnel department, where, due to the restrictions associated with the pandemic, I did not get there the first time. I left my resume, and after a few days they called me back and offered the position of OTK controller! I have been working for 11 months already, at 22 I am already a master, which I am very proud of, - says Margarita. - Every day I feel as if I have some kind of power over the secret of gold. It’s work for me. The bakery bakes rolls, we smelt ingots. Hard and decent work, our common product and our pride! 

Strength - in swimming trunks?

Another of our heroes who traveled from west to east is Andrey Volkov, chief technologist of AMMC.

Like all our interlocutors, they are not from a family of metallurgists: dad is a driver, mom is a builder. I was fond of exact sciences, so I went to study what was interesting. Graduated from the St. Petersburg Polytechnic Institute. Closer to graduation, it so happened that Polymetal was looking for a specialist from the student's bench.

- I worked on one of the company's interesting projects in Armenia. The project was coming to an end, they offered to continue to implement their skills, to continue to develop - but already here, in the Far East. We discussed it with my wife, and now - our baby was born already an Amur citizen!

Andrey Volkov

In general - as in the song: “He said:“ Let's go! ”. There were no particular concerns about the Far East, she says. Business trips have happened before, I had a chance to travel.

Here I found a niche to realize my hobby - motorcycle travel in the taiga, where for enduro (enduro - cross country bikes - ed.) just heaven. Climbing steep slopes without roads is like defeating stubborn ores so that they surrender and give the gold hidden in them to man.

When asked what exactly he does and what is included in his daily duties, Andrey answers as follows:

- Salt and pepper correctly to make a delicious dish! In other words, recovering gold from refractory ore concentrate is a complex process. Constant selection and control of parameters, laboratory analysis, scientific research. Dynamics and constant tension. I can confidently say: of everything I have ever done, this is the most interesting place to work. Many, when they find out where I work, in the old fashioned way associate gold with picks and shovels. And now gold is rather a product of intellectual labor, like that. Therefore, I am glad that such a team of professionals, high-level specialists, with vast experience has come together. We solve complex problems together every day. Discussions, suggestions - all this is welcomed and accepted, finds a response. Today, the company can grow rapidly for everyone who is charged with interest, knowledge, and work.

To summarize with a cinematic phrase - What is the power, brother-metallurgist? - Andrey answers without hesitation:

- Of course, in swimming trunks! - laughs. - Well, to be more precise: more extraction, more heats, more gold. What we are doing!


Afterword. It is the beginning of something new

... During the navigation period along the Amur, raw materials from Albazino are delivered by barges. The trucks enter for unloading at intervals of several minutes.

Each bag - or big bag - contains 14 tons of flotation concentrate of refractory ores. With an average content of 50 grams per ton, the output is 700 grams of gold - which is a lot!


A year ago, a river barge delivered a special cargo to the Amur pier.

From the Belgian Antwerp to the Russian Amursk - a journey, as from the pages of Jules Verne, - across eight seas and three oceans, 25 thousand kilometers - in 48 days, having rounded half the globe, the largest autoclave in the world gold mining arrived in the Far East, intended for the second autoclave line of a hydrometallurgical plant.

The autoclave is 50 meters long and weighs about 1100 tons. Its capacity will make it possible to process up to 300 thousand tons of concentrates of double refractory ores annually. The capacity of AGMK will more than double, and the output of gold - by 15 and a half tons per year.

The plant in small Amursk will again become a pioneer in a technology that is currently unique in Russia.

And it will also give about 400-hundred new jobs. And these will already be new stories and destinies that will flash on the golden horizon. And even if here, in a harsh climate, there is not a sky in diamonds, but hard work, but these will certainly be stories about real life, friends, the Team (with a capital letter) and experience that cannot be bought with all the gold in the world.

September 23: current information on coronavirus in the Far East
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