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Talvivaara nickel mining company, Finland


Description:

By 2017, five years into this conflict, a criminal trial was going on in the Talvivaara mine, owned then by Talvivaara Mining Company Plc. Under scrutiny in the trial were the construction and use of Talvivaara's gypsum waste pond, for alleged scheduled and uncontrolled dumping of effluents into nature, as well as issues surrounding the handling and placement of the mine's various waste components. Prosecutors claimed that Talvivaara bosses committed their first environmental crimes as early as 2004 when the mine was in its planning and building stages. Prosecutors demanded suspended prison sentences of 1 year for Talvivaara Mining Company ex-CEO Pekka Perä, 10 months for ex-CEO Harri Natunen and 8 months for an ex-division chief for aggravated environmental degradation. The accused denied the charges. By 22 March 2018 (reported for instance by Xinhua) a high court in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, sentenced Pekka Pera, founder and original director of Talvivaara mining company, to half a year in prison on probation on account of severe environmental pollution. Starting in 2015, the lawsuit was considered the most significant environmental criminal case in Finland. Two executives of the mining company were fined. A lower court had also fined Pera previously. The operation in Talvivaara nickel and zinc mine began in Sotkamo, Northern Finland in 2008. It used a water bio-diluting process in separating the ore. The waste reservoirs were problematic from the start. They overfilled due to rainwater, and contaminated water leaked to the environment. The wastewater included metal and gypsum. Major leaks occurred in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2013. 

One of the major toxic leaks that began in November 2012 at Europe’s largest nickel mine in north-eastern Finland had become an environmental disaster. The leak was from a gypsum waste pond, which was contaminated with nickel, uranium, and other toxic metals. The mine discharged huge amounts of toxic effluent into the nearby surroundings and lakes. The extraction of heavy metals has resulted in pollution with the uranium concentration in the effluent rising to up to 200 times its normal level in the bottom and surface waters.

Earlier in 2012 one of the mine’s employees died from hydrogen sulfide poisoning in the mining area and dozens of dead water birds were discovered in the open pond. Dust and obnoxious odors from the mine dispersed over a wide area, while the mine’s impact on the waterway was detected over 100 kilometers downstream.

The Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) declared that wastewater leaked from the Talvivaara mining "has no immediate serious effects on human health". However, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Authority (STUK) reported uranium levels 3.5 times higher than the recommended limit of 100 micrograms per liter, but not high enough to be acutely dangerous to humans. The company pledged to cover all the damages caused by the leak.

The leakage prompted organizations such as the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC) to call on the government to intervene. Despite attempts by the company to stop the leaks, leakages continued from April 2013 onwards. In May 2013 FANC demanded the government to close the mine expressing concerns about environmental monitoring which they say had been left to business interests.

Finland's Ministry of Employment and the Economy informed that the company's operations cannot continue before further studies are completed. He said that results from wastewater samples indicate that the environmental permits issued were not in line with its current operations. The Safety Investigation Authority, a government agency responsible for the investigation of major accidents, started an investigation into Talvivaara. Prosecutors were considering the case against Talvivaara Mining in January 2014. Talvivaara subsequently received penalty payments on wastewater management.

Despite huge operating losses (some USD 950 million in 2013), and the environmental problems, Talvivaara received a new permit from the Northern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency in April 2014 to extract uranium. However, this was subject to an appeals process. In the meantime, Talvivaara continued to operate under the previous permit despite opposition from the public and politicians. In July 2014 Talvivaara cancelled the listing of its shares on the London Stock Exchange. Furthermore, the mounting debts of Talvivaara have resulted in a court order for the company to submit to the Corporate Reorganisation Administrator by September 2014 its plans for a long-term financial solution. Afterward, it would be resolved whether the corporate reorganization will enable the company to solicit funding at home and abroad in order to stay afloat, or face bankruptcy.

Talvivaara mining company went into official bankruptcy in 2015. At that moment, the state-owned company Terrafame Oy bought the mine. In May 2016, the Finnish government decided to prepare the closedown of the mine. However, this never happened. Just a few months after Terrafame Oy. bought the mine, they were already producing more than the former owner.  In March 2017, the mining subsidiary of Talvivaara mining was renamed Ahtium. In 2018, the latter was also declared bankrupt.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Talvivaara nickel mining company, Finland
Country:Finland
State or province:Sotkamo, in Kainuu region
Location of conflict:Talvivaara
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
Uranium extraction
Specific commodities:Nickel and Cobalt
Copper
Zinc

Project Details and Actors

Project details

With a planned annual production of approximately 50,000 tonnes of nickel, Talvivaara has the potential to provide 2.3% of the world's current annual production of primary nickel by 2012.

Talvivaara is anticipated to produce metals for a minimum of +60 years.

First metals production in October 2008. Full-scale production started in Q1 of 2009. Annual uranium production is estimated at 350tU (ca. 770,000 pounds), corresponding to approximately 410t (900,000 pounds) of yellowcake (UO4) (Source: www.talvivaara.com)

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:Local population within a 100 km radius of the mine
Start of the conflict:01/06/2006
Company names or state enterprises:Talvivaara Mining Company from Finland
Solidium from Finland
Terrafame Oy
Ahtium
Relevant government actors:Government of Finland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace
Finnish Association for Nature Conservation

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Mine tailing spills, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsToxic spill
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Development of alternatives:Finnish Association for Conservation of Nature and Greenpeace have called for the mine to be closed. However, by 2018 and under state ownership, the mine (producing nickel, also uranium) is in production again.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The mining operation, which began operations back in 2008, has been plagued by all manner of reversals: heavy financial losses, crushing debt, major leaks causing environmental damage and most recently, criminal charges related to its poor environmental record.
Talvivaara Sotkamo went bankrupt in November 2014, and it is bound for liquidation. EJOs remain concerned about the clean up operation.
Moreover, Audley Capital Advisors LLP, a UK-based investment firm, has entered into a conditional asset purchase agreement to acquire the assets of Talvivaara Sotkamo Ltd from its Bankruptcy Estate. At the same time, the State of Finland, has entered into an investment agreement with Audley. The purpose of the agreement is to re-establish the operations and continue the business of the Talvivaara mine on a viable, long-term basis with the establishment of a new mining company.
Ministry of Employment and the Economy
Press release 050/2015
12.3.2015
http://www.tem.fi/en/enterprises/press_releases_enterprises?89511_m=117639

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

R. Sairinen, H. Tiainen, and T. Mononen, “Talvivaara mine and water pollution: An analysis of mining conflict in Finland,” Extr. Ind. Soc., vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 640–651, 2017

Finnish Association for Nature Conservation
http://www.sll.fi/site-actions/english

Talvivaara’s Corporate Reorganisation
http://hugin.info/136227/R/1787695/613946.pdf

Talvivaara – A Finnish Environmental Crime Company
http://www.helladelicious.com/blog/stories-and-news/2012/04/talvivaara-a-finnish-environmental-crime-company/

Talvivaara Sotkamo uranium byproduct recovery project, Kainuu province
http://www.wise-uranium.org/upfi.html#SOTKAMO

Finland: London mining company accused of "serious environmental crime"
http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=12005

Geenpeace
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/chemical-spill-finland/blog/42935/

Talvivaara mine: environmental disaster in Finland:
http://www.nuclear-heritage.net/index.php/Talvivaara_mine:_environmental_disaster_in_Finland

Funding, environment issues dominate Talvivaara AGM
http://www.finlandtimes.fi/business/2014/06/13/7626/Funding,-environment-issues-dominate-Talvivaara

Eye on the Arctic » North - Radio Canada International
http://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2014/11/20/economic-affairs-minister-calls-for-special-audit-of-talvivaara-mining-company/

International Mining, “Former Talvivaara nickel mine on the rebound under Terrafame,”
https://im-mining.com/2018/08/22/former-talvivaara-nickel-mine-rebound-terrafame

Yle Uutiset, “Ahtium, former Talvivaara Mining, files for bankruptcy,”
https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/ahtium_former_talvivaara_mining_files_for_bankruptcy/10103498

Talvivaara seeks cancellation of UK Shares
http://www.stockmarketwire.com/article/4848253/Talvivaara-seeks-cancellation-of-UK-shares.html

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Xinhua, 23 March 2018.

Founder of nickel mine sentenced in largest ever environmental crime in Finland.
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-03/23/c_137058394.htm

Xinhua, 23 March 2018.

9.10.2017. Talvivaara: Finland's biggest environmental crime case returns to court. Finland's most notorious corporate environmental crimes case returned to court on Monday. The founder and owner of the Finnish nickel mine Talvivaara – as well as other leaders of the company – could face massive fines and suspended jail sentences in appeals court.
https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/talvivaara_finlands_biggest_environmental_crime_case_returns_to_court/9873349

9.10.2017. Talvivaara: Finland's biggest environmental crime case returns to court. Finland's most notorious corporate environmental crimes case returned to court on Monday. The founder and owner of the Finnish nickel mine Talvivaara – as well as other leaders of the company – could face massive fines and suspended jail sentences in appeals court.

Meta information

Contributor:Timothy Bedford, Oulun Lyseon lukio. [email protected] (updated, jma)
Last update27/05/2021

Images

 

Talvivaara Protest

Talvivaara Protest in Helsinki November 14th, 2012

Talvivaara workers in the mine's gypsum pool. Source: Heikki Ronty/Yle