The High North Tour 2021: Re-Opening the Mine in Kirkenes with New Owners

Thomas Bækø is the Operating Manager in one of Norway’s most resilient mines, the Sydvaranger iron ore mine in Kirkenes. (Photo/video: Arne O. Holm)

Kirkenes: The iron ore mine in Kirkenes was a political tool owned and subsidized by the Norwegian state for a long time. Today however, a new initiative is coming up following the mine going bankrupt in 2015. In January this year, the Canadian American company Tacora Resources bought in as new main owner.

“That is a really good question” says Operating Manager Thomas Bækø when I ask him why this attempt should succeed when the previous ones have failed.

“We asked ourselves the same question”, he says and continues: “The big difference lies in the fact that in this new project, the ore outtake is significantly higher than it was before. We are to maximize the investments made during the last attempt. Through producing more, we are confident that we will achieve significantly lower cost per unit.”

Through the entire six-year period of being shut down, the machine park of the Sydvaranger mine has been maintained. The new owners now spend time conducting a thorough analysis of the mine and its ore deposit.

No date has been set for startup yet, though Bækø guarantees that the mine will reopen.

“The owners have bought this mine to start new mining operations in Kirkenes.”

It is too soon to tell when it will reopen, other than that it will not happen anytime sooner than the coming fall.

More than 400 employees

The challenge of breaking enormous amounts of rock to get to the ore is not reduced after 2015, which was when the mine was shut down last time.

Before breaking rock, there is a different challenge to solve, that of recruiting a new work force.

“The way we have planned this, we are talking about 400-450 employees when the mine is operative. We need varied and diverse competences and to be honest, recruiting is perhaps one of our biggest challenges. Technically, there are not many challenges, but finding the right people with the right competence represents a challenge in a region that is already sparsely populated”, Thomas Bækø says.

Following the 2015 bankruptcy, the Tschudi Group acquired the entire Sydvaranger mine company. Since then, work has been ongoing to find new owners. Last January, Sydvaranger was acquired by Tacroa Resources Inc., which already owns a number of iron ore mines.

In the video on top of this page you can watch the entire interview with Operating Manager Thomas Bækø and join us on a tour of the mine premises. (English subtitles available.)

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.