Reindeer husbandry and ore prospecting interests clash in Finnish Lapland
Prospecting and new mines under scrutiny in newly buoyant Sodankylä
Olli Pulju, 49, and his hired man Pasi Salmi, 26, are tending a herd of reindeer in Särkikoskenmaa, northeast of the village of Kersilö in Sodanylä, in Finnish Lapland. The herd is feeding on a patch of forest in the middle of a vast swamp.
The world’s fourth largest mining company Anglo American is conducting exploratory drillings in the same area in order to find nickel, copper, and gold deposits. Almost 100 people are working on samples and test drillings in the area.
The Canadian mining company First Quantum is also making exploratory drillings. The company is building a mine and an enrichment plant in Kevitsa, a good ten kilometres away from Kersilö.
The complex will cost EUR 250 million.
”The nickel and copper mine that is to be started early next year will employ nearly 300 people”, reports General Manager Reijo Uusitalo of the FQM Kevitsa Mining.
Both companies have lodged a claim application with the Finnish MInistry of Employment and the Economy in order to examine further the deposits in Sodankylä.
On the Finnish scale, the claim covers a huge area, namely roughly 400,000 hectares.
In addition, four other foreign mining companies are prospecting for ore in Sodankylä.
”Sodankylä is a very promising area. We are searching for ore deposits in order that we could open one or several mines which could operate at least for the next 40 years", says Director Jim Coppard from Anglo American, but he is unwilling to reveal any results.
Will reindeer herding face trouble when mining activities expand?
Central Lapland is turning into a mining zone, stretching from Kolari through Kittilä to Sodankylä.
Kittilä is the home of Finland’s largest gold mine, while an iron ore mine is to be opened in Kolari.
The industry is believed to employ at least 1,000 people in the next few years.
”Every night I wonder whether reindeer herding has any future”, says Pasi Salmi.
”The counterforce is so big that one could get depressed. Some good lichen areas were already lost under the Kevitsa mine. I wonder what Anglo American’s men will find”, Olli Pulju contemplates.
In Sodankylä, the number of reindeer owners is 578 and there are roughly 25,000 head of reindeer. The population is 8,002, which is one inhabitant more than last year.
”For the first time in 30 years, Sodankylä recorded a net migration gain. People are moving back from Southern Finland. A new apartment building is being constructed in the centre, and a new K-supermarket has been completed”, says Kauko Nurmela, the trade ombudsman of the municipality.
The mining boom can already be seen and heard. At the breakfast table in the Karhu Hotel in the centre, one can hear a buzz of English conversation. The hotel is fully booked.
All rental flats have also been reserved, even those located in remote villages, and there is a waiting list for the residences.
Today, the unemployment rate is 10 %, while in the 1990s it was as high as 32 %.
Sodankylä has launched a housing programme, as on the western side of the municipality, the Swedish Lappland Goldminers is already operating the Pahtavaara gold mine, which employs more than 100 people.
”The atmosphere in Sodankylä is optimistic, as the unemployment rate has declined. I can see Kevitsa’s lights from the window of my home in Moskuvaara. I am only thinking about what will happen to the environment”, says Sini Veikanmaa, who goes to upper secondary school in Sodankylä.
Anglo American, operating in the Natura environmental protection area, has reported that it will take away all mud that comes up during drilling, while also recycling the waters of the drilling machine.
Veikko Virtanen, the chairman of the municipal board, believes that reindeer husbandry and mining can coexist in Sodankylä.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Mining giant Anglo American stakes claim on Sodankylä copper deposits (19.4.2010)
Ministry of Employment and the Economy