Kiruna: A Moving Story – Part 1September 20, 2016
Earlier this year, the town of Kiruna, Sweden made national headlines. The city, which sits on top of a mine, literally is moving two miles to the east.
This is the first of an Umgås five-part series on Kiruna and the incredible project to relocate an entire city safely away from the mine that, since its founding, has defined it. We will get to know more about Kiruna’s history, the city as it stands today, the reason behind the massive move, how they are working around the clock to make history with this move and, finally, what the future holds for this northern stronghold once the move is done.
So join us every Tuesday for the next four weeks in a series we like to call “Kiruna: A Moving Story.” We’d like to thank Erika Lindblad, communications officer, urban transformation at Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB), the owner of the mine, for taking the time to answer our questions and providing much background for this series.
While the world immediately thinks of Stockholm when Sweden comes to mind, the far-reaching country has a rarely talked about settlement located just 200 km from the Arctic Circle called Kiruna. With Kiruna being the northernmost city in Sweden, it doesn’t get the tourist or media attention of the rest of the country.
As most people probably aren’t familiar with the history of Kiruna, that is where we will begin our story.
If you want to start at the very beginning, you have to go back – way back – to more than 1.6 billion years ago when volcanic activity caused oxygen to combine with iron, forming the minerals hematite and magnetite. That was the birth of the Kiirunavaara Mountain, which today is the largest underground iron ore mine in the world at more than 2.5 miles long and a mile deep.
If you are going to build a mine that large, you first need a way to transport your product to the global market. So, in the 1800s, the first incredible engineering feat began to build a railway, which opened all the massive iron ore deposits in northern Sweden to be mined and transported globally.
In 1888, the first section of a railway reached Malmberget from the ore harbor at Svartön in Luleå. By 1899, the railway connected to Kiruna from the south. Just a short 14 years later in 1902, the entire mining operation finished being linked by rail, giving Sweden the distinction of having the world’s northernmost railway.
Why is iron ore so important, and why is LKAB iron ore so valued?
Ever since man learned to extract ferrous minerals from the earth, steel has been in high demand. No other material has meant as much to the development of modern society.
Steel production requires iron. According to LKAB, iron is the fourth most common element in the earth’s crust; the quality, amount and price of the mineral determine whether it is worth mining or not and if it can be called iron ore. Logistics made the iron ore profitable to mine and available to steel mill customers all over the world. Iron also has made LKAB a growing supplier of industrial minerals and other LKAB-developed innovations, products and services.
In fact, LKAB estimates that since it was founded in 1890, more than 1.5 billion tons of iron ore has been extracted from Swedish mines, which are mined by the companies that supply raw materials to steel mills worldwide.
Hematite is more common and is the type of ore mined in open pits in most of the major mines around the world. LKAB’s iron ore mainly consists of magnetite in both underground and open pit mines. Magnetite accounts for only one-tenth of the earth’s known iron ore resources. The ore mined in LKAB’s mines is high-grade with an iron content of 60 to 70 percent, and the grade increases with the depth of the orebody.
Although it had a mining manager, Hjalmar Lundbohm, in 1898, the company LKAB was officially founded in 1890, and Lundbohm became its first managing director. In the infancy of the mining operations in northern Sweden, the miners did not have accommodations and lived in shacks they built from empty dynamite crates. Time passes and accommodations and the mining operations grow, as does the town. Lundbohm, who throughout his life remained a mover and a shaker behind the growth of the company and the area, founded and named Kiruna in 1900.
Who owns the company?
LKAB ownership has gone through multiple owner configurations and acquisitions over the years. The important thing is who actually ended up as the final owner. Between 1907 and 1976, the Swedish government began the decades-long, laborious acquisition process until 1976 when it finally had full possession of all the company shares, making LKAB a totally state-owned company.
What makes Kiruna such a big deal in the mining world is that Kiruna mine is the world’s largest underground iron ore mine.
LKAB’s objective is to be one of the most innovative, resource-efficient and responsible mining companies in the world. Thanks to the progressive stance LKAB has always been known for, it is also the most modern operation of its kind in the world. The iron ore coming out is some of the purest in the world. The annual production capacity is over 26 million tons of iron ore.
LKAB is a cutting-edge technological innovator and resource for the mining industry. With increased expansion of the mine, the operating life is expected to reach 2030. Its iron ore pellet and fines production will continue to be a main focus of the Kiruna mine and are considered some of the best in the world. The methods the company has used to increase production and decrease costs are examples of the industry as a whole.