Norwegian mining company Nussir ASA is pursuing a copper mine in the municipality of Kvalsund in northern county of Finnmark. If approved, the mine would annually dump an estimated 2 million tonnes of mine waste into the Repparfjord and seriously disrupt the reindeer herding of indigenous Sámi people.
Marine life at risk
The Norwegian government has classified the Repparfjord as a National Salmon Fjord, due to the importance of its Atlantic salmon spawning grounds. Coastal fisherman, including Sámi sea fisherman are deeply concerned the project will smother habitat critical to salmon, cod and other marine life. Many Sámi fear the Nussir mine will destroy reindeer grazing areas and disrupt their traditional lifestyle.
Tailings are the sludge left once the mineral is extracted from the ore. They contain crushed rock, processing chemicals and naturally occurring elements that become toxic when exposed to air or water. This toxic cocktail settles on and smothers the seafloor, killing everything that lives there. Tailings can also spread, contaminating other areas and destroying coral reefs and other habitat.
Although fjords are at the heart of its identity and economy, Norway is the only country in Europe currently allowing mining companies to dump solid mine waste directly into open water bodies. The fight to stop this mine has unified young people, environmentalists, indigenous people, local fisherman, and marine experts.
On the brink of destruction
Nussir is scheduled to begin operating in 2018, and is close to receiving all necessary permits. The company estimates that the project will generate about 150 local jobs, yet the environmental cost for those jobs could be very high. Mine waste dumping in the Repparfjord during a brief period in the 1970s nearly wiped out it’s excellent fishing grounds, which has just recently recovered. Nussir’s mine is expected to dump 20 times more waste into the fjord.
In January 2018, the Norwegian Government placed a 4-year ban on the issuing of new permits to dump mine waste in the ocean in order to develop a better understanding of the economic and environmental consequences of the practice. The decision does not immediately impact Nussir’s mine, which has already been permitted to dump.
Banner photo credit: Svein Lund