TEHRAN (Dispatches) - Iran has staked out 1,000 promising gold prospects which are thought to help carve out a niche as important as steel in the country’s mining sector, an official says.
Iran is a leading producer of steel in the world, with officials saying exports continue despite the U.S. sanctions. It plans to raise steel output to 55 million tonnes a year by 2025, of which 20 to 25 million tonnes would be earmarked for export.
With its sprawling petroleum industry under a strict sanctions regime which has cut revenues, the country is beginning to take stock of its other resources and mining is emerging as a new field which Iran can count on for revenue generation.
The sector holds a key advantage over the oil industry: it is much harder to sanction the mining industry because of its immense diversity. From extremely sensitive radioactive materials to such ordinary substances as lime, the sector includes as many as 120 elements.
According to officials, possible gold bearing zones have been identified in 21 provinces across Iran. The country’s proven gold reserves are currently estimated at 340 metric tons lying in 24 mines.
However, with extensive prospecting this figure is thought to rise much higher.
"Iran now has 1,000 promising prospects in the field of gold, and soon gold in Iran will play a role similar to steel,” Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade’s Dariush Esmaeili told a mining forum in Tehran on Wednesday.
He said the country will soon bring online a new phase of gold production including all stages from extraction to processing, production of ingots and sale to the central bank. "This is the basis for a change in this field,” Esmaeili added.
Iran’s gold capacity is put at more than 9 million metric tons. The Zarshuran gold complex in Takab is one of the most important mineral prospects, estimated to hold 110 tonnes of reserves. Aq Darreh, also in Takab, operates with 2.2 tonnes of gold a year.
However, the extractives industry is underdeveloped and mineral products account for only 0.6 percent of the GDP in a country which holds about 7 percent of the world’s proven mineral reserves estimated at 60 billion tonnes, including 68 types of minerals.
That is because oil has been the primary source of foreign currency for decades which has relegated other industries to the fringes.
Iran’s oil industry is currently on the frontline of the fight against the U.S. which has slapped the sector with the most aggressive sanctions ever to drive the Islamic Republic’s oil exports down to zero and dry up its revenues.
The Trump administration has broadened the scope of its sanctions on steel, aluminum, copper and iron trade, "but exports still continue because the consumer needs them,” Deputy Minister of Industry, Mining and Trade Mehdi Karbasian said last month.
According to Karbasian, there is a great variety of materials in mining sector and the variety of consumers and producers of the materials is much greater than that of petroleum products.
At current rates, Iran’s mineral reserves are worth $700 billion, but officials say the real figure is much higher, which will be achieved with more exploration.
Assuming that the value of Iran’s mineral reserves is at least $700 billion, their added value would be $4 trillion, Karbasian said.
Esmaeili said the number of active mines is estimated at 5,600. "This year, 1,000 inactive mines will be put into production, which means about 25% of non-active mines will return to production.”