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Ninety metres below a gaping hole in the sub-arctic Barren Lands lies the Diavik mine

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The Diavik Diamond Mine is located on a 20 square kilometre island in Lac de Gras, approximately 300 kilometres by air northeast of Yellowknife.

Diavik Diamond Mines Inc.

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An aerial view of the Diavik Diamond mine.

Diavik Diamond Mines Inc.

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The entry point for Diavik diamond mine in the North West Territories.

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A mine scooper which can be converted to be used remotely at the Diavik diamond mine in the North West Territories.

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Now that that pit has reached its bottom, miners are digging a network of tunnels to extract what remains of the carrot-shaped deposit of kimberlite that they have been pulling from the ground for nearly a decade.

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Nathan Bougeault is a production engineer for Diavik. At Diavik, it costs about $80 per tonne to process ore from open pits. Underground mining will raise the cost 50 per cent to $120. Most of the underground mining will come from a location that produces on average two carats per tonne – well below the five and 3.5 carats per tonne at the pits. Production volume will substantially decrease.

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Diavik production engineer Nathan Bougeault in the diamond mine site in the North West Territories.

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Robert Gannicott, left, CEO of Harry Winston Diamond Corporation, the chairman and chief executive officer of Harry Winston Diamond Corp., the luxury retailer that owns a 40 per cent stake of Diavik. (The 60 per cent owned by mining giant Rio Tinto plc.) 'I would draw the analogy to harvesting an animal,' he says. 'We’ve already had the T-bone steak and we’ve already had the prime rib roast of this particular animal. We now have to move on to the hamburger and the chuck steak.'

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The chance of finding more diamonds to sustain further operations has largely faded.

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Robert Gannicott, CEO of Harry Winston Diamond Corp. at the Diavik diamond mine site, doesn’t see anything on the horizon that could replace the diamond mines which are, he says, 'the lynchpins of the economy up here. So what happens after that? When they close, all those people that have now got training, are used to being in that wage economy and are doing very well in it – they’re frankly going to have to move out of the NWT to be able to carry on doing what they’re currently doing for a living.'

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North West Territories' Premier Floyd Roland in Yellowknife. The territory is pressing Ottawa to invest in a Mackenzie Valley road; others think Canada could rekindle the northern economy by building a large hydro project, or an Arctic port that would drive mine development. Each carries an enormous price tag. 'So there are some huge ‘asks’ potentially on the table,” says Mr. Roland, who draws an analogy to federal outlays in the Hibernia offshore oil project and the Trans-Canada Highway. 'It is the time in Canada’s history now to make those similar types of investments in the North.'

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Harry Kenyon-Slaney, chief executive, diamonds and minerals, Rio Tinto, at the Diavik diamond mine in the North West Territories.

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