May 18, 2020
Earthquake in Sweden over 4.3, one of the strongest shocks ever in the Scandinavian country
A decidedly anomalous earthquake hit Sweden today, one of the countries with the lowest seismicity in the world. The magnitude, according to the US survey institute Usgs, was 4.9 (according to other institutes 4.3), the strongest of the last 12 years and one of the strongest in history. The area of the world’s largest underground iron mine in Kiruna in the Arctic Circle area was affected. According to some experts, the earthquake is linked to the extraction of iron. The mine, which is more than a century old, produced over 14 tons of iron ore products in 2019. After evacuating all workers, there would be no injuries. The shock was also felt in Finland and Norway.
The first piece of city to be dismantled: on 31 July 2017, the town hall clock. The inhabitants of Kiruna follow the operations performed by a huge crane.
Currently the excavations in the mine have reached 1365 meters in the subsoil and more than 75,000 tons of iron ore are extracted per day which is concentrated and transformed into pellets. Since 1890 more than a billion tons of ore has been mined from Kiruna, for the first 60 years with open-cast mining and then gradually move on to the current wells and tunnels.
The fate of Kiruna (Sweden): will the expansion of its mine make it a ghost town?
The fate of Kiruna, the northernmost Swedish city of all, located 150 kilometers north of the Arctic circle seems to have already been marked. It is the most densely inhabited area of Lapland, and with its 20,000 inhabitants, it is located near one of the largest iron mines in the world, whose intensive exploitation is placing the local community in front of important questions about its future.
The site in question represents the largest magnetite deposit on Earth, and a godsend for the Swedish people; the mine is managed by a company, LKAB, a leader in the field of mineral extraction, which has been operating in Scandinavia for more than 100 years and which has created many jobs in these areas. The city of Kiruna exists, and continues to live, thanks to the mine: it was in fact built to house the workers and workers involved in the exploitation of the field at the beginning of the 1900s, and in the new millennium it saw a sort of rebirth, as a consequence of the disproportionate increase in the world (mainly Asian) need for iron. This fact led to the expansion of the exploitation of the huge Kiruna field, which extends for 4 kilometers in length and 2 in height; so far more than a billion tons of ferrous material have been mined, and excavations have currently reached 1045 meters deep. The fundamental problem, linked to the development of the mine, lies in the fact that much of the new portion of iron to be exploited is located just below the city! Extracting the ore from there will clearly lead to a strong instability of the surface soil on which Kiruna’s houses and buildings rest, which would therefore collapse or suffer very serious injuries.
The possibility of stopping the mine’s activity seems to be absolutely unacceptable: Kiruna would die if the mine closed, so the local authorities decided to “move” it elsewhere, in agreement with the LKAB executives. It is precisely a proposal by the latter to abandon the current location of the city, and to rebuild it at a safe distance, away from the dangers associated with underground excavation. It has even been proposed to dismantle and reassemble some of the most important historical buildings elsewhere, in the context of a relocation program that could last more than a hundred years and involve all the inhabitants of the city (20,000). Clearly all the cost of the huge operation will be borne by the mining company that manages the site, which for now has invested 325 million euros for the purchase of land to be expropriated, for the demolition and subsequent reconstruction of houses and buildings. public, as well as for the removal of people and their assets. A similar operation makes us understand how dangerous it is to continue to live where huge excavations are carried out in the subsoil for extraction purposes: on the surface, evident fractures of the soil develop, and the opening of these gashes in the soil, which spread at rhythms impressive, they damage the houses, making them unusable.
A DOUBLE CUT WEAPON. If with the increase in the quantities of iron extracted, Kiruna is destined to collapse, even the closure of the mine would lead to the death of the city, from an economic point of view. The only solution that has been proposed has been to abandon the current urban area, to rebuild it, and partially reassemble it, elsewhere, in the valley to the east.
Very often the towns and cities linked to mining activities of various kinds fall over time, and sadly turn into ghostly, abandoned and rusty places; this for various reasons, from the exhaustion of the quarry or mine in question, to its disposal due to the decrease in the demand for the extracted raw material.
Kiruna, the moving mining town
Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden a few kilometers from the borders with Norway and Finland, immersed in the polar night from mid-December to the Epiphany, famous for its iron mines among the largest in the world, is now at the center of an interesting and articulated urban plan that even involves moving a part of the city.
Founded in 1900 to house miners, Kiruna stands in an area inhabited for 6,000 years by the Sami people, who already knew the presence of iron minerals in the subsoil. The land on which some of its neighborhoods rest has weakened due to the incessant mining activity which, when the tunnels extended to below the city, caused a deformation of the soil highlighted already in 2003.
The inhabitants found themselves faced with important choices for their survival and that of the city: abandoning it or moving the dangerous buildings through a move that should have been invented and designed from scratch.
The Laplanders have chosen the second alternative, move Kiruna
Since 2007, the project has started for the transfer of that part of the city closest to the mine, which will be carried out in the coming decades. The business center, the railway area and part of the northern and western district will be moved about 3 km northeast of the current urban area towards Tuolluvaara. The areas of the demolished buildings will be gradually transformed with urban green areas, a space for the community that will connect the mine to the new Kiruna. New buildings will be built for residences and production activities but, and here is the most interesting part of the project, all the most significant buildings in the center – the church, the town hall and others historically relevant – will not be demolished but dismantled, transferred and rebuilt to safeguard the identity of the city.
Between now and 2035, the move, managed by the state-owned company LKAB which also owns the mine, involves around 10,000 people and 5,000 residential and commercial real estate units, on an area of 700,000 square meters.
Urban transformation principles have been defined which mainly foresee: dialogue and collaboration with all stakeholders to reach collaboration and development agreements; the growth of the new city before the current mining level runs out and it is therefore necessary to open new tunnels even closer to the city; the responsibility of the LKAB which must compensate by law for the effects and costs when mining involves urban transformation; various types of compensation to owners who can choose a replacement building equivalent to their own or a cash compensation equal to the market value plus 25%, compensation for removals and loss of production, subsidized rents in new neighborhoods.
Kiruna’s history is inextricably linked to its mine. In 1642 a hunter discovered and identified a black iron ore rock in Lapland. The discovery had great resonance, starting mining in Sweden and in those years, and for a long time until the arrival of the trains, the ore was extracted in summer and then transported in winter using reindeer and horse-drawn sleighs. Extractions intensified in 1888 with the completion of the mining railway between Luleå, a port on the Gulf of Bothnia, and Malberget, the city south of Kiruna which was the mining area of the time.
In 1890 two entrepreneurs, who had purchased mining concessions from the Kiruna area, founded the LKAB company by starting construction of the city. In 1901 the first school was inaugurated, in 1902 the mine was connected by rail to the ports of Luleå in Sweden and Narvik in Norway. In 1912 the church was completed. In 1907 the state took an equity stake and in 1957 acquired 96% of the shares. In 1976 LKAB becomes completely state-owned and is the company that will manage the transfer of Kiruna.
To visit the mine, a bus is used that travels a long way in the tunnel until reaching the LKAB’s Visitor Center, an area reserved for visits located 540 meters underground, an extraction level abandoned several years ago to move to higher depths. We visit the galleries, the auditorium, where a film with the history of the mine is projected, the museum with images and period objects.
At the end of the transfer of the city, and when the current level of extraction is exhausted, it will be possible to move deeper, under the abandoned neighborhoods, and therefore the mining activity will continue.