The World’s Deepest Working Mine (South Africa) – Tau Tona (City of Gold) (Mining – March 2014)

Tau Tona is an astounding feat of engineering, and is the deepest and largest gold mine on the planet. The TauTona Mine or Western Deep No.3 Shaft, is a gold mine in South Africa. At 3.9 kilometers (2.4 mi) deep it is currently home to the world’s deepest mining operations.

The mine is one of the three Western Deep Levels mines of the West Wits gold field west of Johannesburg. The mine is near the town of Carletonville. TauTona neighbours the Mponeng and Savuka mines, and TauTona and Savuka share processing facilities. All three are owned by AngloGold Ashanti. The mine was originally built by the Anglo American Corporation with its 2 km (1.2 mi) deep main shaft being sunk in 1957.

The name TauTona means “great lion” in the Setswana language. The mine began operation in 1962. It is one of the most efficient mines in South Africa and remains in continuous operation even during periods when the price of gold is low. Since its construction two secondary shafts have been added bringing the mine to its current depth. The mine today has some 800 km (500 mi) of tunnels and employs some 5,600 miners.

The mine is a dangerous place to work and an average of five miners die in accidents each year. The mine is so deep that temperatures in the mine can rise to life-threatening levels. Air conditioning equipment is used to cool the mine from 55 °C (131 °F) down to a more tolerable 28 °C (82 °F). The rock face temperature currently reaches 60 °C (140 °F).

By 2008, the mine reached some 3.9 km (2.4 mi) underground. This made it the deepest mine in the world, surpassing the 3.5 km (2.2 mi) deep East Rand Mine by a considerable margin. This new shaft extended the depth from its previous 3.6 km (2.2 mi), and will extend the mine’s life to 2015.

The journey to the rock face can take 1 hour from surface level. The lift cage that transports the workers from the surface to the bottom travels at 16 metres per second (58 km/h).

In the 2008 financial year, four employees were killed at the TauTona mine, out of seven fatal accidents that occurred at AngloGold Ashanti’s West Wits operations and 14 fatalities overall in the year. The safety record of the mine improved in 2009, when it only recorded one fatality.

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