Great professional disagreement about fjord storage of mining waste

Storage of mining waste in fjords can be an OK solution, according to the Norwegian Institute for Water Research. – Not in the Repparfjord, counter the Institute of Marine Research.

The operating license for the planned copper mine at Repparfjorden has fueled the discussion both about this project and the storage of mining waste in the sea more generally.

– Sea landfill is always wrong, says Geir Jørgensen, the NNR’s regional secretary in Northern Norway.

On the basis of the large environmental degradation in the sea, he believes it is wrong to use Norwegian fjords as a waste disposal site.

The authorities, in turn, believe that the environmental impact of seabed disposal can be acceptable. As late as last week, the copper mine at the Repparfjord in Finnmark was granted an operating license.

Protected salmon fires

There is also considerable disagreement about the practice in the professional environments. The Institute of Marine Research is strongly critical of the plans for the storage of mining waste in the Repparfjord and Førdefjorden – both of which are protected national salmon springs.

– In both cases, it is a question of large masses that are going out into the sea over a long period of time, says researcher Terje van der Meeren of the Institute of Marine Research at NTB.

The waste in the Repparfjord will contain both nickel and many hundred tons of copper bound in minerals per year. Over a fifth of the fjord bottom will be covered with waste.

Van der Meeren emphasizes that there is a lack of knowledge about how large amounts of mining particles with heavy metals affect fish and food chains. But he thinks there is a risk of serious consequences for spawning cod, and for salmon fish if it should come into contact with the waste.

– Appropriate use

However, researchers from a company owned by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) came to a different conclusion when they wrote a report on the plans – on behalf of the mining company Nussir. According to the report, the mining waste will only have minor consequences for the salmon in the protected salmon fjord.

NIVA researcher Morten Thorne Schaanning has not even worked on the situation in the Repparfjord, but is aware that sea landfill can be an acceptable solution to a number of places along the Norwegian coast.

– In many cases, we believe that landfills are appropriate use of Norwegian nature, he says to NTB.

Schaanning points out that many Norwegian fjords have special properties that make waste at the bottom not so easily spread. This is especially true for fjords with a “threshold” – a shallow area – at the outlet.

– Worse to save on land

Over time, the mining waste will also be covered by natural sediments that settle on the bottom.

If one has to have mining first, storage on land can be much more risky, according to Schaanning. Landfills are subject to leaks and they must be maintained indefinitely.

In addition, there are chemical reasons why copper is more easily washed out of rock masses exposed to rainwater on land.

In contrast to many western fjords, however, the Repparfjord does not have a clear threshold at the outlet that limits the outflow of water.Schaanning believes the authorities could impose more stringent requirements on Nussir’s copper extraction in order to reduce the risk of the mining waste spreading.

One possibility would have been to build a barrier on the bottom of the fjord. In addition, a required cover of the waste could be required when the mining operation is over.

Regardless of the consequences in the fjord, there is also strong opposition to Nussir’s mining project because it will affect the reindeer husbandry in the area. Local cleaners fear they will lose so much space that they will have to shut down their operations.

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