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CHUQUICAMATA UNDERGROUND MINE: THE AWAKENING OF A WORLD-CLASS MINING GIANT INTO MODERNITY

Por: Juan Carlos Zevallos Roncagliolo, abogado especialista en Derecho Minero, Corporativo y Negociación con experiencia en empresas mineras y de consultoría.

Abstract

On August 14, 2019, the world witnessed the start-up of the new Chuquicamata underground mine. We are referring to one of the most ambitious operations of the last few years, the same one that to date is considered unique in its kind. This is because it is the largest, most ambitious and titanic underground mining project, a real treasure for mining engineering. The purpose of this project was to transform one of the largest and oldest copper mines in Chile into the most luxurious modern and sustainable operation in the world. 

This major project was built on the site of the former Chuquicamata open-pit mine, which was no longer profitable as it entered a phase of declining ore production and rising operating costs. It is worth noting that this new mining operation, which is based on state-of-the-art technology, tends to considerably optimize environmental, operational and safety standards. One of the most important aspects of this mining project is that it guarantees a useful life of nearly 40 years. 

According to mining sector specialists, Chuquicamata was until recently the largest open-pit mining operation in the world. However, it was already time to modernize it and adapt it to the new current extraction techniques in order to facilitate the exploitation of the deposit. It was at that moment when they thought of adapting it as an underground operation to facilitate the extraction of minerals from inside the earth with Block Caving technology, a method that we will explain in the following lines. Thus, the immense geological potential of the mine and the option to extend its useful life was the great trigger that led the managers of this global giant copper company to design a more efficient and optimal mechanism to exploit the deposit.


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