Breaking Bad, Miner style: The Secret Kyrgyz Gold Mine

Late last year, EurasiaNet.org ran an interesting article about an illegal gold mine sustaining a remote village near the Naryn Province of Kyrgyzstan.

Private mining in the country is currently illegal. With gold mining activity becoming increasingly contentious and politicized in Kyrgyzstan, villagers would only speak to the press under anonymity. Professionals in the mining industry know that mining is hard work that requires heavy equipment and chemical facilities. With virtually no official support, just how is this village using the mine?

Villagers make a three hour trip to the mining area where they scour the Kyrgyz mountainside for quartz and pyrite – typical geological indicators of nearby gold. They dig up the area and haul promising looking samples of ore back to the village.

In a makeshift refinery, one machine crushes the ore and electric sieves wash away the gangue – leaving the most gold-rich parts. Refining this ore to extract the gold is the most complex (and dangerous) step. Using black market nitric acid, the village’s amateur chemists set up a stainless dish downwind and mix the ore and acid together to dissolve any non-precious metals. The smoke produced from the reaction goes from black, to yellow, to white – which indicates the process is finished.

The miners use the Internet to keep track of precious metal prices and sell the gold to support the village. This has led to the mine becoming a major source of the village’s income. However, no one is sure how long the mine will last.

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