Monday, July 20, 2015

Kiruna, 23 June

This series of posts shares field notes from the study abroad course "Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic." The course begins at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and then students from the University of Illinois and KTH travel north to conduct research in the Arctic. This blog was originally posted on KTH's Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic webpage.

by Tina Cheng and Natalie Pekleh

The day started with a bus from LKAB driving to pick us up at the hostel. We were then driven inside the mine of LKAB stopping at the visitor centre, which is located 540 meters below the surface. We were shown a movie about iron ore extraction in LKAB, how it all started, where it is now, and where it is heading. LKAB introduced their new innovation of green pellets, which have lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Our guide talked about how demand for iron ore has risen in the last 10 years, mostly due to the rising demand in East Asia. At the same time, the price for iron ore has dropped because of competitors from Australia and South America. However, LKAB has decided to expand their operations by cutting down personnel and making their iron ore extraction more effective, but they will not dig any further down into the mountain because it would be too costly. We asked the guide whether this market condition has caused their profitability to decline, and currently LKAB has approximately zero net profit.

The tour guide also talked about the move of the town Kiruna to another location, and how they have had to consider different interests before the move can take place. Although LKAB wanted to separate and move the city further the decision ultimately fell on the municipality, who wanted to keep the city into one unit. The guide talked about the possibility of having to move the town again, perhaps in a 100 years from now, because LKAB plans to continue extracting iron ore in the area, which can potentially reach the relocated Kiruna.

During the tour we were allowed to ask questions to the guide. We had many questions and the guide tried to answer our questions the best he could. The tour ended with a Swedish “fika” before we were driven back to the surface and we thanked our guide for the tour.

After lunch, the group started the afternoon by walking to the Kiruna tourist center. We spent half an hour exploring the center, specifically the large exhibition by LKAB detailing information regarding their mining operations, their sustainable practices, and the move of the town. The model of Kiruna, pictured below, was particularly interesting; under it, one was able to view the size of the iron ore deposit in relation to the town. The reason Kiruna is moving is because of the sheer magnitude and profitability of this deposit, as well as the significance that the iron ore mining industry has on the town.

After visiting the tourist center, the group headed to Kiruna’s city hall, where Clara Nystrom and Therese Olsson, two employees of the town’s municipality, gave us a delightful and informative presentation about Kiruna’s relocation. The developmental design was described as a symbol of the new Kiruna, and “a place to be proud of”. The town currently has many areas of national interest related to mining, heritage, reindeer herding, nature and mountains, and transportation. However, the mining and economic interests take precedence over the others. They identified the key-actors involved in the planning of the new city including the political leadership, developers, investors, residents, LKAB, the county and transportation administration boards, and the architectural firm involved in designing the new Kiruna. We were also shown illustrations of what to expect from the new city, and were able to ask many questions related to the relocation.

Later in the day, our group reconvened to debrief and analyze the two days we spent here in Kiruna. Our main topic of discussion was the way in which the landscapes, the current and planned built environment, and the promotional and information materials of Kiruna expressed the city’s identity and cultural heritage. One of the points that came up was the idea of “industrial nature”, and how the town’s industrial and natural landscapes are meshed together. Another was whether or not the Romanticist idea of the “sublime Arctic” could be applied to Kiruna.

The relocation is Kiruna is a very fascinating concept that is getting worldwide attention due to it being the first of its kind. In this class, we’ve established that the LKAB mine is a very important part of Kiruna’s economy and cultural identity, which is the primary reason for the town’s relocation. LKAB has also taken the majority of the fiscal responsibility for the move. However, Clara Nystrom posed a very important question during her presentation: how will they move the sorrows, feelings, and history associated with this town?

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