Czech gold for future generations? | Europe | News and events from across the continent | DW

Jilove u Prahy is a picturesque town of almost 5,000 inhabitants and many historical monuments. This region, along the Sazava River, a tributary of the Vltava near Prague, is a popular recreation area for citizens of the Czech capital.

In the 14th century, Jilove u Prahy was the third largest city in the Kingdom of Bohemia, after Prague and Kutna Hora, and its population was more than double that of today. At the time, King Charles IV of Bohemia (1355-1378) was the Holy Roman Emperor, and during his reign Jilove was the empire’s most important source of gold.

“Much of the city of Prague was built from the proceeds of gold mining, including some of the Charles University buildings that still stand today,” says Sarka Jurinova, director of the Museum. Jilove u Prahy Regional, which houses a large exhibition on gold mining.

“We’re probably the only museum where your admission ticket entitles you to bring back gold that you’ve collected yourself,” she jokes, pointing to a puddle in the courtyard. Visitors can prospect in the sand at the bottom, and any small pieces of gold they find are theirs.

Director Sarka Jurinova in front of the charming Jilove Regional Museum

“There are around 7 tonnes of gold under and around Jilove,” museum geologist Jan Vana told DW. Although mining ended in 1968, Vana says there were times when some of the wells produced up to 4 grams of gold, or about 1/8 ounce, per metric tonne of rock. This would make gold mining a profitable operation, despite the drastic drop in gold prices in 2013.

“The problem is, Jilove is in a recreation area,” says Vana. “Without the use of toxic cyanide, the yield would be low.”

Nevertheless, many locals would like to go back to the days when gold was mined in Jilove. “Then we could buy Czech gold instead of importing it from South Africa,” says an elderly woman from the region.

Handball-sized nuggets

The mining tradition has been maintained in Jilove decades after the mines themselves closed. “In 2018, when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of mining, the last former miners came to gather here,” says Sarka Jurinova, standing in front of a mine car, one of the museum’s exhibits. An inscription informs us that there is enough gold in the pieces of rock in the wagon to produce an alliance.

In the past, however, gold nuggets weighing several kilograms have been found under Jilove. A specimen, the size of a handball, is on display at the Jilove Regional Museum.

Gold sample with pieces of stone at Jilove Regional Museum

A gold nugget of such purity and size is a rare find indeed

The museum offers tours of several of the old wells – although no one in Jilove is looking to revive the mining industry today. “People are still trying to prospect for gold in the sand along the tributaries of the Sazava River,” Jurinova points out.

Gold resources of the Czech Republic

There are recoverable gold deposits in several places in the Czech Republic. A conservative estimate suggests that it would be possible to extract around 400 tonnes of gold. At current prices, that would bring in around 500 billion Czech crowns, or the equivalent of 20 billion euros, or almost 24 million dollars.

Since 1990, there have been several attempts to resume gold mining, but all have failed due to lack of state interest and resistance from residents of the affected communities.

Last year, state-owned Diamo mining company launched an investigation into closed gold mines in Zlate Hory in the northern Czech Republic. “The geological study will last three years, and the results will be used to determine the conditions under which the gold deposit near Zlate Hory can be mined,” Ludvik Kaspar, director of Diamo, told Czech news agency CTK .

Map of the Czech Republic with key locations shown

Mining yes, cyanide no

“The study is expected to provide the government with up-to-date information on the possibility of exploiting gold reserves and their concomitants,” said Stepanka Filipova, spokesperson for the Ministry of Industry and Trade, daily at large MF Dnes print. Here too, several tons of gold would be buried underground.

“I will advocate for the mining resumption project to continue,” Czech President Milos Zeman told CTK a few years ago.

With the Zlate Hory mine, the assumption is that if mining resumes, the gold rock would be sent overseas for further processing, meaning that no gold mining involving highly toxic cyanide is would be carried out in the Czech Republic.

Czech President Milos Zeman at a UN assembly in 2017

Czech President Milos Zeman wants to rejuvenate national gold mining

Mining is not yet profitable

In the Czech Republic, gold mining would be profitable with the use of cyanide, but without cyanide its profitability is questionable.

But for Richard Brabec, the current Minister of the Environment, renouncing cyanide is an essential condition for the resumption of gold mining in the Czech Republic.

“For us, it is absolutely inconceivable and unacceptable that gold mining in the future will be done by leaching, that is, by chemical treatment,” Brabec told Czech television. “The only other option is deep mining,” he continued, referring to mining involving wells dug 1.5 kilometers or nearly a mile underground.

“But I hope that gold will remain hidden underground like the wealth of our country for decades to come,” Brabec concluded.

Czech economist Lukas Kovanda

Czech economist Lukas Kovanda believes profitability factors are behind decision not to mine gold

However, Czech economist Lukas Kovanda, a member of the government’s National Economic Council in Prague, believes that the lack of rush in resuming gold mining mainly reflects economic factors.

“Gold mining is not profitable yet, so no one is in a rush to resume it,” Kovanda told DW. “If things had been different, they would have started mining gold in the Czech Republic a long time ago.”

Czech Republic: lithium superpower?

The example of lithium, often called “white gold”, is enlightening. In recent years, large deposits of lithium have been discovered near Cinovec in the Ore Mountains, near the border with Saxony in Germany. It is estimated to be the largest lithium deposit in Europe, with around 60% on the Czech side of the border and around 40% on the German side.

In March, Karel Havlicek, Czech Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade, announced that with the help of the partly state-owned energy company CEZ, he had succeeded in gaining control of mining. in the majority of deposits in the Czech Republic.

CEZ spokesperson Roman Gazdik told the MF Dnes newspaper’s online portal that mining could start in 2025, after which it would be possible to extract 1.8 million tonnes of lithium ore per year. .

It is estimated that 4% of the world’s lithium reserves are located in the earth below the Czech Republic – 140,000 million metric tons near Cinovec alone. Lithium is a strategic raw material with great potential – it is particularly necessary for the manufacture of batteries.

But lithium mining also carries pollution risks, so environmental considerations could also come into play.

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