Iran's mineral wealth, in addition to oil and gas, includes chromite, lead, zinc, copper, coal, gold, tin, iron, manganese, ferrous oxide, and tungsten. Commercial extraction of significant reserves of turquoise, fireclay, and kaolin is also possible. Most mining was small scale until modernization efforts in the 1960s led to the systematic recording of known deposits, as well as the systematic search for new ones. Industrialization increased the need for steel, which in turn boosted demand for coal, iron ore, and limestone. Construction of new roads and railroads since the 1960s improved transportation among mining centers throughout the country, especially around the Kerman/Bafq area of south- central Iran.
Prior to the Revolution in 1979, the government intended to develop the copper industry to the point that it would rival oil as a source of foreign exchange. Iranian copper deposits are among the world's largest, and mining is particularly advanced southwest of Kerman near Sirjan. The Iran-Iraq War risks and declining world copper prices inhibited copper extraction, which prior to FY 1982 had remained insignificant. The government, however, promoted private sector investment in copper in FY 1982, which may have been responsible for the improved copper output in 1983.
In the 1980s, Iran's major nonmetallic mineral exports were chromite and construction stone. Iran's total chromite reserves were estimated at 20 to 30 million tons in 1987. Exports of construction stone to the Persian Gulf countries increased 200 percent in 1986 over the previous year.
The government conducted surveys in the 1970s to ascertain the commercial potential of known mineral deposits. By 1977 about half the country had been surveyed from the air, but less than one-fifth had been explored on the ground. Studies of mineral deposits throughout the country were completed in the mid-1980s, detailing the most recent discoveries of reserves of silica, limestone, granite, and iron ore. In addition, several uranium deposits were discovered in Baluchestan va Sistan in August 1986, and in September 1986 another 750,000 tons of white kaolin deposits on the Iran-Afghanistan border near Birjand were reported.
The extent of mineral resources was indicated by the fact that approximately 2.7 million tons of minerals were extracted from 27 active mines in Yazd Province in FY 1986. Iran earned a total of US$85 million from mineral exports in that year.
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