Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

Those Gold Bars Littering A Russian Runway

A fun little story about Russian aviation – how a shipment of gold and silver bars ended up littering the runway. That people are flying this stuff isn’t a surprise, gold is valuable enough that transport costs just aren’t a significant feature of any decision. This is especially true in places like Yakutia where you might be 1,000 km by road from the next major town. That they’re mixed gold and silver bars also makes sense.

For it’s easy enough to get those two out of a likely ore with machinery that pitches up at the mine site. But to separate the two requires something a little more expensive in terms of plant. So, you take the mixed metals off to one of those specialist plants elsewhere which, more efficiently, deals with the output of several mines.

So, all terribly sensible so far:

A Russian plane loaded with precious metals lost its glittering cargo on take-off Thursday, scattering the runway with gold and silver.

The Antonov plane was taking off after refuelling in an airport at Yakutsk in Siberia when its cargo door flew open – dropping nearly 200 bars from the Kupol gold mine in the remote Chukotka region, investigators said.

The cargo of bars of concentrated ore used to transport the precious metals weighed 9.3 tonnes.

Concentrated ore, well, perhaps, it was, I think I’m right in saying, doré . Which is, well, sorta, concentrated ore but it’s a technical stage further than that and not quite electrum, which is an alloy of gold and silver. Technical types can correct me of course. Anyway, such stuff happens.

But what it does do is offer an opportunity to tell a tale. I’ve heard this many times and international regulations have changed so that it cannot happen again. But whether it really, really, did happen I’m not sure.

The set up is that gallium has a low melting point. 27 oC from memory, certainly you can soften it in your hands. That’s one of the tests for it in fact, pick it up and if body heat softens the metal then it’s probably gallium. Liquid gallium also instantaneously reacts with aluminium (a “eutectic” alloy) which is liquid. Russian packaging for gallium used to be a double plastic bag around each bar (say, 1 kg and the plastic was akin to a sandwich bag) packed into wooden crates.

One Russian summer temperature on the runway was up in the mid 20s. In the hold of the plane, where the gallium was, considerably higher. With a nice delay so common at Russian airports. Leakage of the gallium onto the floor of the plane – and we all know that planes are made of aluminium, right?

Yep, as the plane took off the floor of it didn’t.

These days Russian, as with other, gallium is transported in a nice thick plastic bottle……

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Tim Newman
6 years ago

I’m mildly surprised that this cargo of gold and silver leaving Siberia didn’t have your name on the manifest, Tim. I’m more than mildly disappointed.

6 years ago

Surely Tim you should be running a boiler room operation to get the gullible to invest in scandium funds etc. Gotta be more lucrative than per word copy articles for the media?

6 years ago

That gallium – aluminium interaction. Is this the one where the other metal prevents the oxide layer forming on the aluminium, which subsequently behaves in air as its periodic table position might predict? Dim memory of chemistry lesson complete with special effect.

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