Copper

Calama – Chile

I remember seeing a picture of that monster the first time.

And now it is crawling up the hill right in front of me. Slow. Roaring. Heavy.

The truck carries 400t of rock. It is an incredible sight. It slowly passes us on its way out of the mine. After it passed us all you see from behind is 4 gigantic wheels. They are more than 4m in diameter. 40.000$ worth each. And they only last 8 months.

I turn around to have another look into the mine. It is mindblowing. More than 1000m deep. 5km long. 3km wide. It is a day of unbelievable numbers. It is a place of superlatives.

We are visiting Chuquicamata, the largest copper mine in the world.

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Almost 100 years ago they started this mine. Not knowing how big the place would become. In the meantime they started 2 other mines, digging in the same geological site. They dig for copper here, and for Molybdenum.

Only one percent of the rock is copper and they have exported more than a million tons of copper last year. Easy to understand how much earth had to been moved for that.

Now the mine is slowly getting to its end and so the output has lowered to about half this year. But they have found more copper. Another 1000m deeper. They will change this now to a subterranean mine in the future. This will also reduce the impact on the environment. The huge hole in the surface is only the most visible impact. The dust, dirt and not least the exhausts contribute to a pretty bad impact the mine has on the environment. Each truck consumes more than 3L/min. They have 100 trucks moving around the clock; they soon will be replaced by conveyer belts.

The trucks are impressive. These are the largest truck that have ever been built. Everything on them is on an almost ridiculous scale. They are more than 8m wide. The tires are just incredible. And they move, slow but constant. The huge caterpillars use only 3 shovels to fill them. So they stand less than 30 seconds to get filled. There is a lane down and one up, so it is a constant movement of huge piles of rocks.

We made a short stopover at the mine. And it is a very exciting time we spend there. These are machines like from another world. Everything is big here. The huge pick-up trucks look like small toys next to the lorries.

And it is big business here. Before Salvador Allende took over the government, this was a big North American business. Ever since the mining is governmental owned. Making 1/3rd of the annual governmental income of Chile.

Hugely depending on the copper price of course.

And so every new source is welcome. A new mine has been started just last year, offering resources of copper for another 50 years. In order to get to these sources, parts the old town of Chuquicamate has been buried under a huge pile of rocks. Even a complete clinic (one of the most modern of the country) is covered by hundreds of meters of rocks.

The rest of the town can be visited. It is a well conserved ghost town. Our guide has studied here. “Lots of good memories” he said, when talking about the stadium of the high school. He tries to smile while he says it.

3 thoughts on “Copper

  1. Pingback: Site Content | peaks, pampas, and panniers

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