|Mark at Rio Blanco|
We spent the first 5 days in Santiago, visiting the Consejo Minero to discuss the current state of mining in Chile, the Sandvik factory to check out some of the machinery workshops and one of the local universities (so the Professor could make a few contacts). All of this interspersed with teaching sessions, presentations and the receipt of details of more presentations to be made during the course of the visit.
Early starts had been a feature of the Alaska trip but the 3am departure to the airport for an internal flight north trumped all of them. Santiago had been dry, but our new location Calama, located in the Atacama region, was more so. It was our base for some incredible mine visits.
First up was the Centinela Mine run by Antofagasta, an open pit copper operation about 40km south of Calama. You couldn’t quite call the equipment shiny, but it was relatively new and the operation was clearly streamlined. Everything was observed from a distance so we had a chance to get a good overview of the full mining process, from the pit, through to the processing mill.
|Prepared for the plant at Chuquicamata|
Our mid residential day out was to the Atacama Desert itself. It was a long drive, mostly up on the way there. Previous experience of high altitude has always involved rugged Alpine style peaks so it was bizarre to find out we were at over 4700m and pretty much surrounded by flat desert. The scenery was spectacular though. Too much running about taking group photographs resulted in a spot of altitude sickness, but thankfully the pounding head and nausea eased on the drive back down to Calama.
|The Atacama Desert|
We returned to the superlatives theme for the trip with the next visit when we called on the biggest underground copper mine in the world. El Teniente is also operated by CODELCO and also relatively close to Santiago. Despite being close however we managed to be late, and as they thought we weren’t coming, the mine had cancelled the trip. Fortunately no one had gone too far and our guide was re-conjured, a spare bus acquired and we set off underground. But not before we had spent over an hour in the bus getting to the portal.
|Underground crusher at El Teniente|
The last trip of the residential was to another CODELCO operation, the Andina Copper mine, approximately 70km north east of Santiago. Before the mine itself, we stopped in at the operations control centre at Los Andes to see a cutting edge use of ‘big data’. The deputy director, Herman Aguirre, has set up a system where operations at the Andina mine can be monitored and graphically plotted in real time from any coffee shop in Santiago (or the world for that matter). The data he collects can be used to improve the productivity of the operation and the savings, on a scale that CODELCO operates at, can run to tens of millions of dollars, all using open source software.
|Bid data in Andina Mine control room|
The final event of the trip (all part of the assessment for the course) was a debate with the motion: This house believes that Chile will continue to lead global copper production over the next 25 years. Despite an emotional and powerful opening statement by those against, the motion carried, which was hardly surprising given every one in the room believed it to be true.
Chile is a fabulous country with stunning geology, better food that Alaska and airport security that is reminiscent of Europe in the 80s. I fully intend learning Spanish and going back for a more leisurely visit, maybe heading south next time.