Here we have collected the most frequent questions regarding the Rönnbäcken Project and answered them in accordance with the latest information and knowledge available.
While the deposit is low grade, it features large, shallow, outcropping zones of mineralization which require very little waste rock removal. Hence it can be open-pit mined at low-cost and processed using conventional technology to produce a very attractive nickel concentrate. The sulphide mineralogy includes unusually rich nickel minerals, allowing the winning of a concentrate which is substantially richer than concentrates produced from traditional nickel sulfide ores.
The host rock at Rönnbäcken has a natural composition which prevents the generation of acid mine drainage, as is typically associated with the mining and processing of sulfide ores, and which requires significant measures to avoid the occurrence of metal transport to the environment.
The Vasterbotten region of Sweden features enviable power, water and transport infrastructure which will minimise development costs and provide easy access to supplier and product markets.
We predict nickel demand will continue growing, as nickel is a strategic metal with multiple important uses, such as in stainless steel production, which accounts for more than 60% of the global nickel consumption. We also see the need for new nickel mines to come into operation in the future.
The combination of these factors provides a favourable economic environment for development.
Primarily, adequate ore tonnage with high enough nickel grades needs to be defined. In addition, several other factors come into play, such as environmental issues and the long-term nickel market forecast.
The planned operations
Similarities as well as dissimilarities apply. The ore will be mined in a similar manner using large machinery. As well, similar technology will be used for processing the ore.
However, the sizes of the open-pits will be different. At Aitik, today’s pit measures 3,000 m in length, 800 m in width and 480 m in depth and is expected to grow in all of these dimensions, e.g. to 580 m depth. Rönnbäcken’s plans include three smaller separate open-pits. Two will be 1,200 m long, 600 m wide and 250 m deep each. One will be 600 m in diameter at surface and extend down to 220 m.
We are still working on defining conditions for the operations. Our starting position is that the benefits in the form of ore value, job creation and economic multiplying effects clearly outweigh the possible drawbacks. The balance between the different interests will be judged by the environmental court, which will issue conditions for precautionary measures and decommissioning measures, as well as requirements for the pledging of financial guarantees for decommissioning measures. A predicted mine life of e.g. 20 years at start does not necessarily mean that it will not be lengthened. With few exceptions, mine lives tend to extend beyond original predictions. Of greater importance the project must be robust from the beginning, allowing it to endure any downturn of the market during the initial, financially decisive period. Today, operations are facing tough demands with regard to the decommissioning of areas of waste. Several mines operating under similar climatic conditions to those of Rönnbäcken, have demonstrated successful decommissionings, e.g. Stekenjokk (Vilhelmina, County of Västerbotten).
The current planned operation is expected to generate, on a continuous basis, at least 250 full-time employment opportunities within the mining company itself, and in addition, some 100 full-time jobs in associated contracting and service businesses. For the commissioning and the decommissioning phases, a significant number of job opportunities will be generated. The company will seek to recruit, as much as possible, from the local communities.
The planned mine would be the single largest industrial employer in the municipality of Storuman, and will function as an engine for the development of local enterprises. It is hoped that the prevailing long-term downturn in population and occupation numbers may be halted, and changed to a trend of growth. For the municipality, a mine start would also mean that demands for municipal services for a growing population will need to be met and developed.
Mines are increasingly welcoming women as employees, not just for offices, labs and cleaning duties, but for direct production jobs in mines and concentrators. We think an appropriate target for recruitment at Rönnbäcken would be 50/50 amongst men and women.
The basic level required will be high school (Sw. gymnasium). Training for industrial process operations or forest harvesting operations would be relevant for jobs at the mine. Academic exams, M.Sc. and above, would be required for specialty functions in the areas of geology, technology and environment. Notwithstanding, personal experience and skill will be given due consideration over and above a lack of formal merits.
We are planning on the work force commuting from places nearby. No mining town will be built at the mine site.
The current plan is for at least 20 years, but experience shows that once a mine is established it may run for an extended number of years. Continued exploration may identify additional ore reserves, which would extend the mine life.
Any dust spread from the mines, transport and disposal sites will originate from either the naturally low-grade ore, or from the surrounding barren waste rock. Thus, the dust will be characterized by very low metal content. Measures will be taken, as far as is feasible and practical, to limit the dusting to acceptable levels for the work place, as well for the external environment. Measures will include dust suppression of industrial roads and surfaces while in operation. Dusting in the nearby surroundings is perceived to be more of an inconvenience, than a threat to health and the environment. Dusting at further distances is expected to be of limited concern. The dusting issue will be assessed in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be filed with the application for environmental permit. Dusting from the handling of nickel concentrate is not to be expected since concentrate drying will be carried out using a non-thermal method, which does not give rise to effluent gases. Furthermore, concentrate handling will be performed in a closed system in order to avoid losses of the valuable product.
No - at Rönnbäcken, no smelting will be performed, just mining and ore processing, which do not generate sulfur dioxide emissions. The environmental impact evident at some nickel smelting sites is the result of using outdated practices, resulting in large emissions of sulfur dioxide into the air, causing acidification by acid precipitation on the surrounding soil. In combination with the sulfur gas, metal containing dust particles were also emitted. Modern smelters have been adapted to cause considerably less of an environmental impact. However, no smelter will be built at the Rönnbäcken site. The off-site smelters which will treat the concentrate from Rönnbäcken will benefit from the purity of the concentrate, since it is uniquely clean with low contents of sulfur.
The potential environmental impact by the mine will be properly assessed by the Environmental court during the permitting process. A permit will be denied if there are concerns regarding significant impacts. The emissions which will take place are primarily point emissions, or direct emissions to air (from vehicles and from ventilation of buildings) and to water (by discharge from the process water system). Conditions for the control, measurement and reporting of these emissions will be included in the permit. Apart from direct emissions, so called fugitive emissions can take place into the air (dusting from mines, roads and disposal sites) and to water (infiltration from installations). The rock naturally has a favorable composition, in that the sulfur content is low, implying very limited metal leaching from the waste material. Dusting will be limited by preventive measures. Measures to limit infiltration of substances of concern to harmless levels will be implemented throughout. The long-term impact after cessation of operation will be controlled by decommissioning measures. A long-term monitoring program will assist in the supervision of the applied measures, and if deemed necessary, will lead to corrective measures and reinforcements. Requirements on mining operations today are comprehensive and far-reaching.
There are no concerns of leaching happening for the area close to the site or further, thanks to the low sulfur content of the rock.
The geology of Rönnbäcken is significantly different from that of other sulfide mines, given the low content of sulfur and an abundance of basic (acid buffering) minerals. As a consequence, the chances for acid, and/or metal-containing leach water being generated and transported from the area is very low in both short- and long-term perspectives.
The chemicals, currently considered for use are of traditional type with documented properties. So far, no consumption figures have been established. Conditions for handling of chemicals will be issued by the Environmental court which also will decide on a safety report, including risk management procedures.
Small amounts have been identified. The significance of this will be examined and presented to the Environmental court.
The part of Lake Gardiken which will be used for disposal will vanish as fishing water. The productive lake area will therefore be diminished. No water courses of significance for reproduction of fish will be impacted. The composition of water discharged from the tailings and clarification pond will not contain metals and fertilizing substances at levels detrimental to the conditions and the quality of fish.
A loss of accessible land will occur during construction and the operation of the installations. Traffic and noise during this period will impact wildlife. Larger predators are expected to flee the area the most, followed by moose and finally small game. Re-establishment of game will be one of the targets in planning for the decommissioning.
No mining is to take place directly in contact with river or lake water in the actual tributary to the Umeå River. An open-pit mine is planned for the island of Rönnbäcknäset in Lake Gardiken, as well, open-pit mines will be located on land north and south of the island.
Permits for the operations
A number of separate permits are required for an operator to start mining. An exploitation concession gives the holder the right to use land for mining and associated activities and is issued by the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden. One of its requirements is an approved EIA, mainly directed at land use. An environmental permit is issued by the Environmental court and defines the conditions for the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of mine and other installations. Also this permit requires an approved EIA. The environmental permitting process for the Environmental court includes a phase of formal consultations with stakeholders. A building permit is required for the building activities and is issued by the local municipality.
EIA is the acronym for Environmental Impact Assessment which in the permitting chain for mining, is required in two phases. The first time is in the application to the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden for an exploitation concession, and it focuses on land-use issues. The preparation of this EIA does not call for the applicant to engage with stakeholders in a formal consultation process. IGE Nordic has, however, on its own initiative, participated in comprehensive information activities in this phase. The second case for an EIA occurs in conjunction with an application for an environmental permit at the Environmental court, and requires that the applicant prepare the EIA in formal consultation with stakeholders. The scope of this EIA is broader than that of the first one required for exploitation concession, and it brings in several dimensions including the physical surroundings, competing land uses, social aspects, etc. The EIA should be sufficiently comprehensive and detailed to allow the court to decide on the acceptability of the activity on short- and long-term bases. The EIA should also include statements received from concerned parties during consultations.
In applications for exploitation concessions, it is the Chief Mining Inspector, and in applications for environmental permits, the Environmental court decides.
The Mining Inspectorate of Sweden (Sw. Bergsstaten) is the official body in Sweden responsible for issuing permits for prospecting (exploration permits) and mines (exploitation concessions). The Mining Inspectorate also carries out inspections of mines and provides information. It is headed by the Chief Mining Inspector.
Consultations in permitting activities according to the Environmental code should include each one interested in the case. The applicant is required to provide suitable information to the stakeholders for their positioning and the application should include information on how concerns from the stakeholders have been addressed.
At an introductory consultation meeting with the County Administrative Board, IGE received advice on which parties to include in the consultation process. To insure that no stakeholder is left out, an invitation to a public consultation meeting will be circulated and directed to the public and all interested parties. Prior to the consultation meetings, the applicant shall distribute relevant information.
So far, an overview inventory has been made after a couple of field visits by a specialist, selected after consultation with the County Administrative Board. A more in depth study including additional field work is planned for the application to the Environmental court.
Transportation and area access
Large quantities of ore and waste rock will be moved within the industrial area. Transportation outside of the industrial area will consist of personnel, commodity supplies to the mine and transportation of products from the mine. The end-nickel product, the main product of the operations, will be transported by a limited number of truck-loads, preliminary estimates are of up to five per day. It is still unclear as to the extent to which by-products will produced and added to the transport flow from the mine. The flow of transport into the area will be determined by the need for consumables. The expected transport volumes to the site will significantly exceed the transport volumes of nickel product from the site. Widening and strengthening of the access roads are planned. Traffic during construction and operation may cause increased noise to the nearby population, and a disturbance to reindeer herding, if preventive measures are not taken. Preliminary plans call for the transport of consumables via Lövlund, while transportation of personnel may take place both via Lövlund and Tärnamo.
No, but today’s traffic through the area will have to be redirected to new routes.
A danger zone will be established around the open pits and will be fenced to prevent unauthorized approaches. All internal roads between the various pits will also be fenced.
Properties of nickel
As with all substances, hazardousness is determined by the chemical form in which the substance is present. No health related hazards related to nickel have been identified for the processes intended for use at Rönnbäcken, where only stable nickel compounds will be handled. Health related effects for exposed humans or animals in the surroundings are not expected either. Concentrations of soluble nickel occurring in the process water system, may lead to smaller increases in surrounding waters, but these are expected to be of no significance to flora and fauna.
Since all of the handling of nickel at Rönnbäcken deals with stable substances, no health impacts need be feared for employees or exposed humans and animals in the surroundings. The known health related effects of nickel relate to metal production, as well as the use of the nickel metal. Metallic nickel may cause skin allergy. Exposure to nickel metal dust may cause chronic effects on operators in nickel refineries, where risk for exposure to carcinogenic nickel-carbonyl gas may also occur. The concentrator at Rönnbäcken will not lead to exposures of this nature.
Emissions will be low and will not cause significant impacts. A closer assessment of expected emission levels will be made in the application for an environmental permit.
Of greatest importance is the prevention of failures of the dykes used for tailings impoundment. Therefore, selection of sites for impoundment will be preceded by proper ground surveys to ensure stable ground conditions. Dykes will be designed to maintain low water pressure on the bearing sections. Selection of material will be through careful assessment, and construction will be supervised by external experts. Monitoring systems for dam stability will be installed, and observed continuously to allow corrective measures to be applied without delay, if so required. Monitoring will continue during the post mining phase to ensure that stability is maintained.
Please refer to the above question. Current demands on dam safety are very comprehensive.
Vehicles fueled by diesel will generate carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. Should opportunities to use electric vehicles or conveyors, or to switch to bio-diesel appear, the impact on climate would be reduced correspondingly. The proximity to hydropower generation facilities means a lower than average carbon footprint with regard to the power needed to operate the processing plant. Seen in a broader perspective, the start-up of a mine at Rönnbäcken means that its nickel production will replace corresponding production elsewhere, which probably has a greater carbon footprint. A mine at Rönnbäcken may thus lead to a global reduction of future carbon emissions. No measurable effect on the climate, either positive or negative, is expected.
IGE’s work on environmental permitting has included an early consultation meeting with the County Administrative Board and the municipality, at which the detailed consultation has been discussed. The company intends to include all parties, which identify themselves as stakeholders, in the consultation process.
The company intends to compensate for suffered loss in a fair and reasonable way. How this will be done and which compensations will be relevant can only be established later in the process.
The owners of properties which must be taken in use for the industrial activities or are situated close to the operations will be offered redemption. Generally precautionary measures will be taken to limit impacts as far as possible.