Yesterday we visited Chuquicamata (Choo-kee-cah-mah-tah) Mine, owned by CODELCO, which is the largest open-pit copper mine in the world, and one of the largest of any open-pit mines. Stretching 3 miles long, 2 miles wide, and half a mile deep, this mine is so big that it has overtaken the nearby town of Chuquicamata. In fact, it bought out the entire town and relocated its residents to a nearby town called Calama and has used Chuquicamata as a dumping ground for its excess rocks and minerals. The expanding waste pile, called "cakes," stands roughly 300 feet tall and covers 80% of the town.
But the mine itself isn't the only big thing here--the dump trucks are massive, standing at 7 meters (23 feet) tall and 8 meters (26 feet) long. Their weight when fully loaded is about 320-450 tonnes. Being so heavy, they use 3 liters of gasoline every minute! Their tanks have a 5,000 gallon capacity and they use $4,500 worth of gas every day. As if that weren't costly enough their wheels only last 8 months, yet one single wheel costs $40,000 to replace! With 6 wheels per unit, that's $240,000 worth of tires every 8 months, and there are 92 trucks in total. Their top speed while empty is about 40 mph, and fully loaded is about 20 mph. But it takes 1 hour and 10 minutes for a truck to drive down the mine, load up, drive back up, and go dump the ore for extraction.
And these trucks have to to an insane amount of work to get anything out of it. The ore that is extracted is only 1% pure, so 100 tonnes of extracted ore will yield about 1 ton of pure copper--that's a pretty low yield.
The mine is estimated to last about another 50 years, so they are already looking for other locations to set up a new mine. But what our tour guide told us about their next location was shocking--she said "Recently there was copper found under Calama, so maybe in 50 years we'll just relocate them too." She said it so casually that some of us didn't even register what she said. I can't imagine the mentality they must have about the locals if moving an entire group of people is so nonchalant. It was a really offensive way to say it too, as if they will get whatever they want just because they're a big business.
Overall, the impacts of the mining corporation, which we saw in just one day, have been significant. Moving an entire town and covering the majority of it is no minor impact. That changed the lives of 25,000 people who were moved as well as the 125,000 people of Calama, where they were moved. And the list goes on.
We are currently starting our research projects to more deeply explore the impacts of mining and tourism on the indigenous people. At the end of J-term we will present our findings to the class--so more on that later.
Until next time,