A global rush for minerals is underway. Europe wants to revive its mining industry to secure the lithium, nickel, copper and rare earth elements needed for a green future. Investigate Europe sieves fact from fiction in the hunt for critical raw materials.
“This has been 130 years of encroachment on our nature and abuse of us Sámi in this area,” says Karin Kvarfordt Niia. The ground is slowly caving in around Kiruna in northern Sweden, where Europe’s largest iron ore mine has operated since the late 19th century.
Excessive excavation has left Kiruna buckling under the strain of its mineral riches. There are fears that part of the town, with around 20,000 people, will literally sink into the ground. To avoid this, authorities are moving the whole city centre to new land, a mega operation paid for by the state-owned mining company LKAB.
Kiruna was built on indigenous Sámi land. Now the mining company, together with the Swedish government, has announced plans to establish another mineshaft to access a huge find of rare earth elements, and more iron ore. The government sees prosperity and development. For many in the Sámi community, the radical plans mean further erosion of their way of life.
“They have dried up lakes where we used to fish. They have taken away from us areas where our reindeer have grazed forever. We have had to move from our villages,” says Niia, a local Sámi spokesperson. What coal was to the 19th century, and oil to the 20th, rare earth elements are to the 21st.
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