GAHCHO KUE, Canada -- Just to the south of the Arctic Circle, in the tundra of Canada's Northwest Territories, the speckled wilderness of scrub and silver lakes is split by a pit blasted into the granite. Giant Komatsu trucks pick across the landscape, tiny against the broad horizon of Gahcho Kue, the largest new diamond mine to be opened anywhere in the world for more than a decade.
The mine, operated by De Beers and opened on Sept. 20, is a self-contained village, with generators, kitchens, a fire service and quarters for hundreds of workers. In winter, temperatures drop below -40C, but the mine will keep operating, only shutting down during a "white out," when the snow comes in sideways and reduces visibility to a few meters. The company spends more than $5 million a year on an ice road stretching more than 400km southwest to Yellowknife, the territorial capital. The road is open for less than two months a year, and is the only way to bring up the machinery, parts and fuel needed to keep the mine running.