Chapter 13. Dangerous Frozen Diamonds. .


By the time the film was completed I had researched the diamond trade for 14 years. I was, I must confess, sick of diamonds. But within a month of the film appearing on the BBC, I was in the Arctic on De Beer's mining prospects, staying with the Dene, a native people of far north Canada, going out with dog teams, watching a magnificent herd of 350,000 caribou and marvelling at the vibrant Northern Lights scouring the night sky, - all because of De Beers' paranoia. I felt I owed it a bouquet for inadvertently bringing me back to working with indigenous people.

...The Russians had been reckless in the methods their mining methods. They had even used nuclear explosives to look for oil near the diamond mines. One explosion was 3 kilometres from the diamond mining town of Udachny. There were twelve such blasts in the diamond mining Russian state of Yakutia between 1973 and 1987. Pollution from the diamond mines themselves was so acute that local authorities had threatened to close the mines.

Russian geologists reported another danger ignored in De Beers publications. The kimberlite rocks of diamond pits mostly consist of olivine which alters to serpentine. One type of serpentine is asbestos, a mineral that can kill through lung disease. Russian research shows that weathered serpentine also exhibits dangerous fibres, or asbestos-like characteristics. 'Individual globules [of serpentine] congregate into extended snakelike growths.' In Britain a Health and Safety executive report estimated that some 10,000 premature deaths a year would be caused by asbestos by the year 2020. BHP has admitted serpentine is present in their diamond discoveries but says it is not dangerous. I was later to learn that asbestos pollution was a very serious concern among miners in De Beers South African mines.

...... Tempelsman knew that the deal might leave a substantial part of the Russian stockpile untouched as some estimates of the stockpile valued it at up 20 billion US dollars. So he also wanted Russia to agree to an independent valuation of its stockpile. The proposal document, prepared by his firm, Lazare Kaplan, hinted that the very best stones would be 'neutralised' by being selected as security for the loan.