By Eugene Gerden
Uzbekistan aims to become one of the world’s largest gold producers within the next several years that will be achieved through more development of its domestic gold regions.
According to latest data, published by the Uzbek State Committee for Geology, the country currently has 63 large-scale gold mining fields, which have total reserves of more than 2,500 tonnes of gold, and probable reserves (in categories C1 and C2) of 5,990 tonnes. Of these, at least nine are currently in the developmental stage and there is a possibility the number of such fields will increase already shortly.
Implementation of these plans will be also part of the last year’s order, which was given by the Uzbek President Shavkat Mirzeev to the national government and which involves an increase of domestic gold and silver production by almost two times by 2021-2022.
At present, the annual volume of gold production in Uzbekistan is estimated at 100 tonnes (in 2017 – 89.9 tonnes; in 2019 – 88.5 tonnes) and will significantly increase in years to come.
In fact, the development of the Uzbekistan gold mining industry began at the end of 1960s, when the Soviet government gave a green light for the development of Muruntau, a gold mine that has one of the world’s largest reserves.
After the collapse of the USSR, most of these projects stalled and resumed only in recent years, when the Uzbek government announced its plans to invest up to US$750 million in the development of Muruntau. Most of the funds for the project will be allocated from state sources.
Located in the mountains in the southwest of the Kyzyl Kum desert of the Navoi region, the mine was discovered in 1958 and commercial development began in July, 1969. The world’s largest gold-mining open pit was then established with a length of 3.5 km, a width of 2.7 km and a depth of 600 metres.
Most of gold will be produced at plants operated by the Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Combine (NMMC) which already accounts 70% of gold production in Uzbekistan.
As part of the plans of the Uzbek government, the beginning of more active development of Muruntau will ensure replenishment of gold reserves utilizing the almost complete utilization of NMMC.
The NMMC is comprised of four hydrometallurgical plants, one heap leaching mine and one gold processing mill. Since 1991, ore processing at NMMC has almost tripled, while the volume of gold production has increased by almost 40%.
As planned, development of Muruntau and other local gold mining fields will involve the participation of foreign investors. As part of the plans of the Uzbek government, particular attention will be paid to attract investors from Canada.
Last year, B2Gold Corp. announced their intention to conduct geological exploration of three promising gold deposits in the Navoi region. At that time, the company had not ruled out the possibility of beginning active gold mining within Uzbekistan, which may become the next stage after the completion of exploration.
In the meantime, the Uzbek government hopes that attracting foreign investors will create conditions for the transfer of some Western gold mining technologies to domestic producers, which may provide a further impetus for the development of the country’s gold mining sector in the future.
In addition, it is hoped that foreign investors and gold mining specialists will provide an opportunity to better assess the geological reserves of the republic in accordance with international standards.
In general, the Uzbek government hopes successful implementation of these plans will allow the increase gold reserves up to 474 tonnes worth US$18.75 billion within the next five years.
According to the Central Bank of Uzbekistan, current gold reserves are estimated at US$13.1 billion. At present, gold remains one of the major export items for Uzbekistan, most of which is exported to Switzerland.
Implementation of these plans will be part of the ambitious state plan for Uzbekistan to join the world’s top five gold-producing nations.