Go to contents

Coming Back to Life

Posted June. 16, 2007 04:57,   


The location is the Sinyemi mine in Shindong-eup, Jeongseon-gun, Gangwon-do on June 12 in the afternoon.

The gate of the Sinyemi mine is on the mid-slope of a mountain 530 meters above sea level. After riding in a car through the downward path of about six to eight degrees for 10 minutes, one can hear an ear-splitting sound.

The sound is from 350 meters underground where heavy equipment with two large-sized drills is boring a hole to plant explosives.

Han Yu-seop, director of the Handuk Iron Mining Co.-affiliated Sinyemi mine, positions a magnetic steel bar to the wall of the heading and it sticks, implying there is iron ore.

The Sinyemi mine, the only iron mine in the nation, has returned to life. As international commodity prices jump up, the domestic mine industry, which was on the verge of demise, is coming back to life.

Bold Investment in Facilities, Including Modernization of Equipment -

The Sinyemi mine, which opened in 1916, stopped operations in November 2000 due to financial difficulties. After being taken over by Handuk Iron Mining Co., it was in the red until last year.

However, things have substantially changed this year. It is expected to run a surplus as POSCO increased its order to 420,000 tons from 250,000 tons last year. It also employed 20 additional workers.

Hong Byeong-hee, a production team manager who had joined the company in 1983, said, “Since the mine closed, I worked as a day laborer. People here want to work at mines even though the job was once despised by people as the worst job to do.”

Last year, Samjin Logics took it over and proceeded with investment in facilities, including modernization of equipment.

The modernized headings (five meters high and five meters wide) are so wide that even large–sized dump trucks can pass through them. The company utilizes heavy equipment and conveyor belts; gone are the days when people whose faces were covered with black dirt wielded pickaxes.

“Last year, the company purchased modern heavy equipment worth 1.15 billion won, which increased production by 30 percent and led to the discovery of molybdenum ore. We plan to increase production to one million tons of iron ore a year and recruit 60 more employees.”

Molybdenum and Zinc Mining -

According to the Korea Resources Corporation, there are 487 mines in operation now, of which as few as 22 are metal mines. The Corporation estimates that all but three mines including Sinyemi are nominal ones with nothing significant to produce.

Domestic metal mines, whose number reached 108 in 1986, have disappeared one by one as mining was no longer a lucrative business. The Sangdong mine, renowned as a tungsten mine, shut down in 1997, and the Mookuk mine, the largest gold mine in the nation, stopped production in 1992.

However, with global commodity prices soaring, things have changed in favor of the mining industry. International prices for iron ore rose to $52.28 per ton from $23.39 in 2004. Those for molybdenum ore skyrocketed to $33.75 per pound from $2.39 in 2001.

The Kumum mine located in Uljin-gun, Gyeongbuk, which is owned by the Hanbo Group, is scheduled to start mining in this July after 25 years of idling. The Ilkwan molybdenum refinery in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do was completed last month. Such developments will help the nation wean off from foreign molybdenum and even pave the way for exportation.

The city of Jecheon in Chungbuk will also see its Kumsungmalland mine reopen its doors and start mining molybdenum as early as 2008.

The Jangun mine in Bongwha, Gyeongbuk, which was shut down in 2001 due to low profits, is studying the feasibility of zinc production. People are also busy probing surrounding areas of Eumseong-gun in Chungbuk for gold ore.

Combining Profitability and Environment-friendly Development is a Main Task-

The Korea Resources Corporation plans to establish two to three medium and large-sized metal mines by 2010. President of the Corporation Lee Han-ho said, “With soaring commodity prices as well as increasing resources nationalism, mineral resources will be in short supply. To guarantee a secure supply, we should actively develop domestic resources.”

There are more than a few tasks to be dealt with. To be competitive, local mines, first of all, must make themselves viable through modernization. It will not be easy for them to overcome opposition from local residents as well as municipalities.

Cho Yeong-tae, project manager of mineral resources at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy, said, “We should keep the domestic mining industry in place in order to secure know-how and manpower to develop foreign resources. The government will go ahead with revising the mining industry law to institutionalize the eco-friendly development of resources, including an introduction of environmental assessment.”