England challenges China by reviving strategic mine

North American Tungsten

The Devon mine, which provided material used in both World Wars, was closed in 1944 as access to overseas supplies resumed. Wolf isn’t the first company to attempt to revive it.

Amax Inc. started efforts to develop the mine in the 1970s and was granted approval for the project from Devon’s local government in 1986. Amax withdrew from the project in 1993 after falling commodity prices made progressing uneconomic.

North American Tungsten Corp. bought Hemerdon in 1997, before disposing of the asset in 2003, discouraged by persistently low prices.

Cornwall and West Devon have been mined for more than 3,500 years, supplying the Roman Empire and materials for the U.K.’s industrial revolution, according to Unesco. By the early 19th century, the region provided two-thirds of the world’s copper and was home to about 2,000 tin mines.

Francis Drake

Competition from Chile and Australia in the 1860s closed many of the copper mines, while the tin sites struggled to survive as increased production in Malaysia and Australia drove down prices. The region’s last tin mine, South Crofty, closed in 1998.

Wolf’s mine is about 10 miles from the maritime city of Plymouth. Sir Francis Drake masterminded the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 from the city and in 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World from Plymouth aboard the Mayflower.

Against the backdrop of 2012 market constraints and higher prices, the mine is now an example of how Britain can provide its own security of supply, Hale said.

“The U.K. does have stuff that’s been overlooked for years,” he said. “The perception round the world is that the planning permissions will be hard, the opportunities will be small and you’ll be up against an army of green protesters. The reality is the other way round.

‘‘It’s a big resource, it’s not bijou, hobby, clotted cream and jam,” he said. “This is world class.”

Bloomberg News

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