The Diavik diamond mine
The Diavik Diamond Mine is located on a 20 square kilometre island informally called East Island, in Lac de Gras. The lake is 60 kilometres long and located approximately 300 kilometres by air northeast of Yellowknife, the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories. The Arctic Circle is located 220 kilometres north of the mine.
The mine is an unincorporated joint venture between Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. (DDMI) (60 per cent) and Dominion Diamond Diavik Limited Partnership (40%). Both companies are headquartered in Yellowknife, Canada. Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto plc of London, England, and Dominion Diamond Diavik Limited Partnership is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dominion Diamond Corporation of Yellowknife, Canada. Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. is the operator of the mine. The two joint venture participants retain the right to market independently their respective share of the diamonds produced from the Diavik Diamond Mine, which is managed by DDMI.
Diamonds were first discovered in the area in the early 1990s and the site was deemed economic to mine in 1995. In early 2003, construction of the mine was completed. The mine currently has a footprint of approximately 10 square kilometres and has an expected mine life of 16 to 22 years.
The mine operates in a very remote region of Canada and requires unique dike technology to allow mining of the deposits which were formerly under the large lake. The Diavik ore bodies, while small, have some of the highest in situ value per tonne of any diamond mine in the world.
The design and construction of the Diavik mine is an enormous achievement in a forbidding setting. Open-pit mining could only safely operate if the waters of Lac de Gras could be held at bay with certainty, so a unique 3.9 kilometre rock fill dike had to be built into the lake. Not only did the extremely harsh climatic conditions present significant construction challenges, but nothing was allowed to blemish the pristine waters of the lake during its building. International searches were mounted to determine the best methods to be used. New engineering technologies were developed to achieve the task. So unusual was this approach, both in Canada and across the world, that a dike review board - consisting of five distinguished independent dam engineers - was appointed to oversee its development.
The Diavik Diamond Mine ore reserve comprises three diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes that are mined using open pit and underground mining methods. Transition to a fully underground mining operation occurred in 2012. These pipes are called A154 South, A154 North and A418. Bulk sampling of a fourth pipe, A21, was undertaken in 2007 to assess whether it should be included in the reserve. All pipes are located just offshore of East Island, beneath the waters of Lac de Gras.
In all its activities, Diavik is committed to protecting the environment and making a positive contribution to local communities through a series of award-winning programmes and agreements.
Rio Tinto's 60 per cent share of the diamonds from the Diavik mine are sorted and prepared for international sale by Rio Tinto Diamonds' sales and marketing team in Antwerp, Belgium.
There is considerable market interest in the distinctiveness and value of Canadian diamonds because of their guarantee of issue-free origin and Canada's high social and environmental standards of mining. The Canadian Federal Government's Competition Bureau has defined a Canadian diamond as one mined in Canada. Rio Tinto Diamonds and the Diavik Diamond Mine support and are signatories to the Canadian Government's Voluntary Code of Conduct for Authenticating Canadian Diamond Claims. This means that both companies work to ensure that diamonds sold as Canadian truly are Canadian, thereby capturing the benefits of that origin for all stakeholders.
In addition, the Government of the Northwest Territories of Canada has introduced a programme to certify selected diamonds as mined, cut and polished in the Northwest Territories. Out of Rio Tinto's 60 per cent share of production from the Diavik mine, a proportion of the larger better quality gem material is made available by Rio Tinto Diamonds to companies manufacturing in the Northwest Territories. Rio Tinto Diamonds also supplies a number of other Canadian manufacturers outside of the Northwest Territories with production from the diamond mine.