Explained: Why this town in Sweden is being moved one building at a time
In northern Sweden, some 125 miles (200 km) above the Arctic Circle, a town named Kiruna is witnessing subsidence due to the world’s biggest iron ore mine. Among several buildings, the city of 18,000 people is also home to a culturally significant, 600-tonne wooden, cosy terracotta-coloured church, designed to resemble a hut of the indigenous Sami people. The fate of these structures and homes is intertwined with the state-run company LKAB which is the largest iron ore mine in the world and produces 80 per cent of the European Union’s supply, said a report by the Guardian.
What will happen to the town?
In the upcoming years, Kiruna is about to witness one of the world’s most radical relocation projects as the local iron ore mine is threatening to swallow the town, as per the Guardian, after cracks emerged in hospitals and school buildings. At least 6,000 are set to move from the sinking town and will also face a gradual rise in their rent, over eight years to a cap of 25 per cent higher than the old rate.
In 1912, the town became home to the 600-tonne wooden building with no religious symbol which was once described by the vicar, Lena Tjärnberg, as “the living room of the community”. In the next three years, after more than a century, the most beautiful old building in Sweden will be moved. According to the report, the terracotta-coloured church, designed to resemble a hut of the indigenous Sami people, will be relocated some three km east of the old town to near the local graveyard.
Founded in 1900 the mine in question is run by the Swedish state-owned company LKAB which is also the largest iron ore mine in the world. However, moving forward the company hopes to be at the forefront of Europe’s green industrial revolution and drive autonomy for natural resources, as per the Guardian. In 2021, the company also began producing fossil-free sponge iron which was done by replacing coal with hydrogen produced from green electricity.
Last month, the company also announced that it was sitting on the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in Europe, some of which are important for producing electric car batteries and wind turbines. Subsequently, the Swedish Deputy Prime Minister as well as the one in charge of climate and business, Ebba Busch said, “Sweden is literally a goldmine…Europe needs to learn the lesson, to not be so highly dependent on one single country for gas in the way we were (on) Russia.”
Speaking to the reporters from inside the mine, Busch at the time had said that this discovery of rare earth metals also gives Europe a chance to be less dependent on China which is the source of 86 per cent of the global supply, reported the Guardian.
How will it affect the local community?
The kind of transformation Kiruna is going through has raised alarms among many as the entire town is going to be relocated due to the mining activity in the region and the risk it poses to the town’s residents including the Sami people. Centuries before the LKAB began their mining operations in the region, the Sami people would herd reindeer throughout the Arctic lands, however, reports suggest that their way of life is under threat.
In addition, the mining and human activities which have consequently led to the fragmentation of the land make reindeer herding ever more difficult while the climate crisis was already threatening the main winter food source for reindeer which is lichen. The Sami people also fear that any disruptions to such an “ancient activity” would compromise their rights to the land, reported the Guardian.
An LKAB spokesperson, Anders Lindberg, said that two Sami villages have already changed their herding routes since the mine opened while the company has become better at listening to the herders’ issues and is working on minimising the impact of their work. However, according to the report, another Sami village named Gabna might have to change their herding routes since the discovery of the new rare earth elements.