The Kittilä mine belongs to the Canadian mining company Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd, which owns nine mines in three countries (Canada, Mexico and Finland). The company is doing exploration in Canada, the USA, Mexico and Scandinavia. The mining company provides employment for approximately 6,700 people, including contractors.
The company’s only mine in Europe is located in Kittilä, Finland, where it is also registered. The Kittilä mine is also the largest gold mine in Europe. The mine has been in operation for about seven years, with the annual production of gold amounting up to this point at approximately 5,300 kg. The first dore bar was poured in January 2009.
Operations at the mine were launched in 2008 with open pit mining, which drew to a close in late 2012. Today there is underground-only operation. Excavated ore is transported from the mine on mine trucks and is either stored in temporary stockpiles or carried directly to the crushing facility from where it is transported on belt conveyors for milling. In flotation – the phase of the process following milling – sulphides attach themselves onto air bubbles which rise to the surface, where they are skimmed and led to autoclave oxidation. In an autoclave, under a high pressure and temperature and aided by an additional injection of oxygen into the autoclave, a process is induced that releases the refractory gold present in the ore. The resulting sludge is leached and conducted to a dissolution circuit, in which the dissolved gold is adsorbed in adsorbent carbon. From absorbent carbon, gold is recovered via acid extraction, after which it is electroplated onto stainless steel wool and poured into bars.
After the gold extraction tailings are pumped to the tailings ponds. Tailings resulting from the flotation and cyanide dissolution processes are stored in separate ponds.
Sludge from the cyanide dissolution process is led to a cyanide destruction process before it is pumped into a pond, in order to ensure that any cyanide residues that may not have been dissolved will be chemically broken down and rendered harmless. Water in the ponds is recycled back to the process, and part of the water used in the flotation stage is pumped, via a treatment peatland, into the recipient waterway (the Seurujoki River), in accordance with the environmental permit.
Part of the flotation tailings and waste rock is used for the pit backfill, and part of the waste rock is hauled by mine trucks to the surface level to be exploited for construction of ponds and roads or dumping.
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