Swedish town makes unprecedented move for iron ore mine
In a colossal unprecedented experiment, Sweden’s northernmost town Kiruna is preparing to move its entire city center to make way for its expanding iron ore mine.
Located 145 kilometers (90 miles) north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lappland, Kiruna was built up in the early 1900s around what has become the world’s largest underground iron ore mine.
Now home to 18,000 residents, Kiruna needs to move about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to the east as the mine’s extraction area inches deeper and closer to the town, causing cracks to shoot up under its foundations.
“We have always lived off the mine and we always will,” Bror Pudas, 79, who lives on Gruvvaegen, or Mine Road, says assuredly.
But the task is mammoth: all major buildings, streets, the highway and railroad have to be rebuilt, as well as apartment buildings and water, sewage and electrical systems.
Nestled high up in the wilderness, Kiruna is surrounded by pristine, stunning nature, within view of Sweden’s highest mountain Kebnekaise. It enjoys the midnight sun in summer, and is plunged into darkness for six weeks in winter.
Its town center mixes charming old wooden houses with drab and characterless concrete buildings on wide streets. Some 6,200 residents and most businesses and shops have to relocate. Half of Bror Pudas’ street will disappear so the state-controlled company LKAB can continue to mine the 4-kilometer wide vein of iron ore beneath the surface.
“The town wouldn’t collapse right away. But there would be deforma- tions, irregularities underground that could dislodge pipes and crack buildings,” explains Kiruna’s Deputy Vice Mayor Stefan Sydberg.
At least 100 more years
LKAB informed Kiruna of the situation in 2003, and told town officials they either move the parts of the center that could collapse if the company’s expansion went ahead, or risk stifling Kiruna’s largest employer, with 2,100 jobs.
The location of “new Kiruna” was selected in 2009, steering clear of mining concessions and the migratory routes of reindeer.
The goal is to move all of the town’s businesses to the new center at the same time in 2019.
But with less than five years to go, work on the new town has yet to begin. The site is still an evergreen forest, with no construction materials or workers as far as the eye can see.
While most locals support the move — understanding the need to keep the mine in business to keep jobs — some are skeptical about how it’s going to be done.
Linda Persson, who works at an optician located close to the mine, is one of them. “We want to know who will be moving when. But nobody has any answers,” she says.
The project is unparalleled. Germany tore down villages to make way for brown coal mines, while the Chilean town of Chuquicamata was abandoned because it was too close to the world’s largest copper mine. But never before has an entire town center been destroyed and rebuilt elsewhere. The move is estimated to cost between 15 and 30 billion kronor (US$1.8 to US$3.55 billion). LKAB will pay for most of it, its business boosted by a mineral whose quality improves the deeper the mine goes.Miners are currently extracting iron ore at a depth of 1,045 meters (3,428 feet). Meanwhile, other workers are tunneling and building a new site at 1,365 meters, to be operational in 2017.
“We’ve test drilled down to 2,000 meters and the deposits continue. Beneath that we don’t know, but we know there’s still enough for at least another 100 years of mining,” explains Marit Olofsson, who guides visitors through the mine’s museum.
1. This picture taken on March 19 shows the Kiruna’s downtown due to be demolished because of ground deformations triggered by iron mining. 2. This picture taken on March 17 shows helmets available at the Kirunavaara mine visitor center 540 meters underground in Kiruna. 3. This picture taken on November 5, 2013 shows a red wire on a model of Sweden’s northernmost town of Kiruna that marks the area of the town that will be moved few kilometers away to save it from sinking into the ground due to underground cracks created by iron ore mining.