The Kletno Uranium mine is located on the northern slope of Żmijowiec in the Śnieżnik Massif in Lower Silesia in Poland. For many years, this place was inaccessible to tourists, with the Underground Tourist Route becoming available only in 2002.
I fell in love with the mine; it evoked memories of my dream of being a gemmologists and reminded me of all the boxes of gems and stones from my childhood days I still keep at my parents’ house 🙂 It was the first mine I visited with such amazingly looking minerals (fluorite, amethyst, quartz, among others) adjourning the corridors we ventured through.
The first documented information about mining works in the Śnieżnik Massif comes from the end of the 15th century. However, traces suggest that exploitation of iron ores (magnetite – the richest iron ore found in nature (up to 72% pure Fe) and hematite) were carried out much earlier. Later on, people started mining iron, silver, and copper.
The mine was extensively used in 1948-1953 when the Polish People’s Republic and the USSR reached an agreement that allowed the USSR mining and retrieval of all ores, with uranium among them. The works were, of course, secret; the military carefully guarded the area, and no one was allowed to access it.
Polish forced laborers, prisoners from labor camps, conscripted soldiers, and a few well-paid miners did the extraction; however, they had no idea what material they were mining. Because of that, many people were exposed to the harmful effects of radiation and fell ill. In addition, due to the lack of essential equipment like masks, many people contracted pneumoconiosis. The Russians did not keep statistics, but according to the Polish Institute of National Remembrance estimates, as many as 3,500 people lost their lives due to radiation, diseases, and accidents.
The five-year mine output amounted to 20 tons of material, out of which Russians obtained 120 kg of uranium, which is more or less equivalent to the size of two atomic bombs from Hiroshima. The mine consisted of 20 drifts, three shafts with a total length of over 37 km.
The Underground Tourist Route
The 45 minutes route starts in audit No. 18. It is a separate system of workings located in the north-eastern, uppermost part of the mine, with around 400 meters of corridors. There is no danger of radiation, with the exposure similar to the one in the cities. If you are lucky, you might spot some bats hiding in the ceiling.
We walked through the maze of colorful corridors allowing us to see the rainbow of colors made of local minerals such as fluorite, amethyst, milk quartz, barite, chalcopyrite, chalcocite, and malachite. There was a display of mining lams and mining equipment along the way. But the best part was left for last: uranium glass exhibition illuminated by a UV lamp. Uranium glass came from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century and was produced in Poland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. The glass contains 1-2% of uranium; however, it does not endanger humans.
The mine also offers an extreme adventure to explore inaccessible tunnels of the former uranium mine and medieval galleries of iron ore mines from 600 years ago. They provide guides and the necessary equipment such as a climbing helmet, coverall, headlamp, protective gloves, etc.
If you decide to book the extreme tour, it is only possible between April and October, and you need to remember to do it at least a week beforehand. It is possible to expand the 3,5h exploration by different activities. Contact the mine for more details.
- Check more details on the mine’s website
- Bring warm clothes as the temperature oscillates at around 7°C
- There are free parking spots at the road bends, right next to the mine. The ones at the bottom of the mountain are paid and require 15 minutes walk up the hill.
- You can prebook the visit here to skip waiting in the queue.
- There is free audioguide in English, but we skipped it and did a live translation as always 🙂
- You can buy minerals in the shop, but the guide told us they are from Chinese mines. He suggested driving/walking towards the foot of the mountain until we reach the barrier and parking lot next to it. There is an area with discarded stones from the mine, where we could look for small souvenirs. They were not as pretty as the ones you can buy, but we loved the treasure hunt and getting a local stone 🙂