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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 organizations, 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. The 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

Name of conflict:Rönnbäcken Nickel Mine, Västerbotten, Sweden
Country:Sweden
State or province:Västerbotten
Location of conflict:Tärnaby
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 processing
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Specific commodities:Nickel, Cobalt, Magnetite

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The 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:4.8
Level of Investment:15,400,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:150
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Nickel Mountain AB from Sweden
IGE Resources AB from Sweden
Relevant government actors:Bergsstaten , Supreme Court, Land and Environment Court
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Jordens 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

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Pastoralists
Forms of mobilization:Creation 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-economical 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 alternatives:The proposal is that there should be no mine and that the Sami people should keep their land.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:It is too early at the moment to say how the conflict will end.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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

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

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

(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

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

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

Meta information

Contributor:Linda Dubec
Last update20/02/2020

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