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Rönnbäcken Nickel Mine, Västerbotten, Sweden


Description

In the valley Björkvattsdalen, close to the village Tärnaby in Västerbotten, Sweden, there is an ongoing conflict between two national interests ('riksintresse' in Swedish). The national interest conflict is between reindeer herding, a traditional practice belonging to the indigenous Sami people, and the opening of a nickel mine by the company Nickel Mountain AB. This is the first time in Swedish history that two national interests are put against one another and in May 2012, the Swedish Supreme Court came to the conclusion that in this case they are incompatible (1, 2).

Many local Sami organisations, villages, and local EJO Nätverket Stoppa Gruvan I Rönnbäck have protested and appealed to the decision to give Nickel Mountain AB permission to mine in the area. The area where the mine is to be located is crucial to the Samis for pasture rotation for their 8,000 reindeers. A mine in the area would completely eliminate the possibilities for the Sami people to have reindeers there since it is a narrow passage (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

A concern is also that the mine would be located in an area connected to the river Umeälven which has its estuary in the city of Umeå. A pollution of the river would thus have disastrous consequences for both humans and the environment along the river (4, 5).

The guidelines for the Swedish government to choose between two national interests are stated in the Swedish environmental law. They should choose the one that 'in the most appropriate way promotes a long-term management of the ground, the water and the physical environment in general' (My translation, Swedish Environmental Law, 1998:808, Ch. 3, 10§) (7). To this point the government has been leaning towards the mine and based the decision on the economic benefits that the mine would bring.

Basic Data

NameRönnbäcken Nickel Mine, Västerbotten, Sweden
CountrySweden
ProvinceVästerbotten
SiteTärnaby
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific CommoditiesNickel, Cobalt, Magnetite

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsThe mine would consist of three open pits, an industrial area with ore treatment facilities such as crushing plants, ore storage and a processing plant. There would also be an area dedicated to stockpiling waste rock and a pond for mine tailings (1). The life span of the mine is thought to be over a time period of 27 years (including after-treatment of the ground) and the company estimate to extract 30 million tonnes of ore every year which would yield 26,000 tonnes nickel and 760 tonnes of cobalt. Besides nickel and cobalt there might be an annual production of 1,5 million tonnes of magnetite concentrate as a byproduct. The mine is expected to create 500 new jobs and production is thought to begin in earliest in 2016 (2).

Project Area (in hectares)4.8
Level of Investment (in USD)15,400,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population150
Start Date2010
Company Names or State EnterprisesNickel Mountain AB from Sweden
IGE Resources AB from Sweden
Relevant government actorsBergsstaten , Supreme Court, Land and Environment Court
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersJordens Vänner, Umeå (Friends of the Earth, Umeå), https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jordens-Vänner-Umeå/166826526664278?fref=ts, Studiefrämjandet, http://www.studieframjandet.se/umearegionen/Lokalkontor/Umea/, Nätverket Stoppa Gruvan i Rönnbäck, (The Network Stop the Mine in Rönnbäck), http://stoppagruvan.wordpress.com/, Landspartiet Svenska Samer, http://landspartietsvenskasamer.com/, Min Geaidnu, http://www.mingeaidnu.se/, Riksorganisationen Landsförbundet Svenska Samer (LSS), Vadtejen Saemiej Sijte (VSS), Älvräddarna, http://www.alvraddarna.se/, Urbergsgruppen, http://urbergsgruppen.se/, Vaapsten sijte, http://vapsten.se/, Fältbiologerna, www.faltbiologerna.se

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Development of AlternativesThe proposal is that there should be no mine and that the Sami people should keep their land.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.It is too early at the moment to say how the conflict will end.

Sources and Materials

Legislations

Swedish Environmental Law (Miljöbalken, 1998:808),
http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19980808.HTM

ILO Convention 169, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention,
http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C169

Swedish Mineral Law (Minerallagen, 1991:45),
http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19910045.HTM

Links

(7) Slaget om Storuman, Fokus,
http://www.fokus.se/2012/09/slaget-om-storuman/

(2) Ja till ny svensk nickelgruva, Ny Teknik,
http://www.nyteknik.se/nyheter/basindustri/gruvindustri/article3748166.ece

(3) Fördömer dagens regeringsbeslut, Sveriges Radio,
http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2327&artikel=5623993

(6) I valet mellan miljön och miljarderna, Dagens Arena,
http://www.dagensarena.se/innehall/i-valet-mellan-miljon-och-miljarderna/

(1) Regeringen ger klartecken för gruva i Tärna - nickel viktigare än renskötsel, Sveriges Radio,
http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2327&artikel=5623625

(4) Fortsatta protester mot Tärnagruva, Sveriges Radio,
http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2327&artikel=5339169

(5) Regeringens dilemma: Gruvor eller renskötsel, Sveriges Television,
http://www.svt.se/nyheter/sverige/regeringens-dilemma-nya-jobb-mot-miljon

Other CommentsThe total investment corresponds to 15,4 million USD (100 million SEK) at this point.

Meta Information

ContributorLinda Dubec
Last update08/04/2014