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Eye on the Arctic

Uncertain future for Swedish Arctic mining town

Published torsdag 4 november 2010 kl 09.30
"My neighborhood will be the first to move"
(8:37 min)
View of Kiruna seen from LKAB mine. Photo: Anneli Lindbäck/SR Norrbotten

Sweden’s most northerly town, Kiruna, has to re-locate. The mine it grew up around has caused subsidence that has reached the outskirts of the town. And a controversy has erupted over where the new town should be built.

The town grew up around the iron ore mine over a century ago and mining is still its lifeblood - the largest private sector employer in the area. But the seemingly never ending iron ore deposits are causing a conundrum – they lead right under the heart of the town. And as drilling continues more than a kilometre underground, cracks are starting to appear on the surface.

A year ago the town had a plan – to move four kilometres north, demolishing some buildings and transporting older ones of cultural value. But earlier this year the plan was scrapped – as the local council said the land was not suitable. The new proposal is to move the town to the east but there is still a great deal of uncertainty about where, how and when.

“It’s not been decided yet which buildings will be moved or rebuilt. There are ongoing negotiations with the mining company LKAB and other actors,” explained Mariann Nordmark at Kiruna council.

Anders Lindberg, a spokesperson for LKAB, said the direction the town moves in could be crucial to its long term survival.

He said that if the council goes ahead with plans to move east – in the same direction as the iron ore seam - it could mean that people will have to move again in 70 or 80 years time - And if iron ore prices are too low to cover the costs, he says it could cause the mine to close, shutting off the town’s main source of income.

But the local council leader, Lars Törnman, said the costs of moving are minor in comparison to the multi-million dollar profits made by the mining company.

“It’s nonsense to say that the cost of moving again would cause the mine to close. LKAB is making multi million dollar investments and enormous profits, he said.

Törnman added that as long as it’s unclear how much ore is under the town – and when it will be mined - people need to be prepared to move again and even build houses that can be easily transported.

While most locals accept that the town has to move to make way for the mine, there is a growing sense of frustration in the community, says local Swedish Radio reporter Magdalena Martinsson, as no-one knows for sure where Kiruna will be located in the future.

Reporter: Tom Sullivan

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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