Dave Trueman on the history of Russian interest in Afghanistan’s beryllium, lithium, tantalum and cesium deposits
Foreword from Jack Lifton: Today I want to introduce a new writer/reporter to the Investorintel audience. (Dr.) Dave Trueman is a Canadian born, raised, and educated geologist who was a pioneer in exploring for and finding commercial deposits of technology metals-as they have come to be called-not only in Canada but all over the world. Dave was exploring for lithium in Manitoba during the first lithium supply crisis and after that looking at lithium deposits in Afghanistan. That was 45 years ago now. I’ll let Dave tell his story of those times, and let you be educated.
Dave Truman writes:
You might ask when did I first get involved in looking at lithium pegmatites and what inspired my interest?
I had been working for the Centre for Excellence in Precambrian Studies at the University of Manitoba while doing my Ph.D. fieldwork. I was asked in 1976 by Dr. Petr Cerny to research structural controls of the emplacements of granitic pegmatites and Tanco, the tantalum producer in Manitoba, threw their drilling databank at me. Now the Tanco pegmatite, amongst being one of the world’s largest, does not outcrop, being below Bernic Lake, Manitoba.
So I put together a geologic picture from the drill hole data and realized the south half of the pegmatite was missing. I told the company to drill a hole right in the center of what appeared to be a bullseye where the missing south half should be when Bernic Lake froze over in 1976. That started an array of drill holes that doubled Tanco’s Lithium resources, and Tanco offered me a job at Christmas.
And I stepped right into the world’s first Lithium crisis. The crisis was caused by the Tokamak fusion reactor which would burn lithium in producing pollution free energy. A mini-star, or the Sun, in principle.
The United States Geological Survey had published a paper questioning whether there was enough lithium in the world to feed various of the world’s proposed fusion reactors. We, as various authors divided the world up into domains in which we could quantify lithium resources. We did allay the shortage fears after we presented our findings at Corning New York in 1977.
Pardon my digression, but Tanco and the Bikita pegmatite in Zimbabwe respectively, were offering concentrates termed SQUI, an acronym for Spodumene-Quartz Intergrowth. SQUI’s main attribute was its low iron content for zero expansion glass (from the freezer to the stovetop) and for pyroceramic (Pyrex) cookware. As potential producers, we were invited for a boardroom lunch served by butlers in livery c/w a cigar selection. Except, lunch was delayed by Bikita management which was hurrying to meet us after they landed, having flown from South Africa after missing their commuter flight from Zimbabwe.
They made their apologies for being late. It seems the Bikita mine had a good rapport with their black workers who they would educate and give increasing responsibility. Accordingly, when they joined the various local guerilla bands, they would leave Bikita alone. Nevertheless, Bikita staff lived in houses with mortar bunkers underneath, and the families were trained in FN machine guns; one of which was stored over the kitchen sink. The night before the Bikita team was supposed to come, a local animal, a Gnu, started rooting in one of their gardens. The racket of machine gun fire that ensued drove everyone into their bunkers. Unfortunately, a neighbor’s house caught the full blast of pyrophoric/tracer bullets and caught on fire. After hearing gunfire the local fire brigade didn’t respond.
In the 1970’s the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the PDPA, had been cozying up to the USSR. The Russians had spent time mapping out Afghanistan and outlining oil, gas and mineral deposits and their reserves. With increasing dissatisfaction with the DPDA government in 1978, the Russians signed a support agreement for armed support of the PDPA if needed. In 1979 Russia invaded Afghanistan. It was widely believed that the Russians were attempting to take over the Hindu Kush and Pamir pegmatites where the strategic minerals were deposited and the key trade routes pass in Pakistan and India. The Russians had considered the area the world’s largest reserve of rare metals of beryllium, lithium, tantalum and cesium and shown below.
The United States began arming the Islamist Mujahedeen rebel forces which opposed both the Russians and Afghan governments and in 1980 the Mujahideen even appeared at the annual Tucson, Arizona, Gem & Mineral Show. Rumors abounded about U.S. Central Intelligence Agency aid in their endeavor.
I learned in the 1970’s about the Lithium pegmatites in Afghanistan and the 1982 GAC/MAC short course on pegmatites we used it as references. The cited maps were of Russian investigations into the Lithium deposits and were lacking detail so they could just be published outside of Russia in their various Journals. What did emerge from their mapping was that they were very large, kilometers in length, up to 40 meters thick and at least 100 meters in depth extent. And very rich in gemstones, as well as Lithium, Cesium, and Tantalum or what we now call LCT pegmatites.
Between 1979 and the withdrawal now of U.S. troops, the U.S. Geological Survey had latterly been touting 1 trillion dollars worth of resources in Afghanistan, undoubtedly hoping to lure in some economic development.
I decided to brush up on my knowledge of the Aghan pegmatites after 40 years. Here’s what I found:
And from the very trustworthy British Geological Survey at:
After further frustrated digging I found some selected information published in the 2020 Afghan Journal of Minerals in Afghanistan. Note the brine and playa lithium deposits in western Afghanistan. One has been described as larger than the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
Squinting more closely:
The upshots of this work are: yes there are lithium deposits in Afghanistan, some of which are over a kilometer long and as described over 40 meters thick and probably extend at least 100 meters downward. They are LCT pegmatites and carry various sorts of gem minerals, like Hiddenite, a variety of petalite which commands more per carat than equivalent diamonds and is named after Hiddenite, North Carolina. They also contain beryl, emeralds, morganite beryl, polychrome tourmalines, kunzite is another petalite gem, and potentially economic spodumene, tantalite, and pollucite some resources of which are shown below.
For the resources tabulated by the BGS below, contact information is also provided!
Sadly what has been an interesting business in trafficking gem, gemstock and collector material through the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show was stopped due to Covid:19
and it may never be the same until Afghanistan changes governments again.
Over then years he has variously been a member of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the Geological Association of Canada, the Prospectors & ... <Read more about David Trueman>