Norwegian mining company Nussir ASA is pursuing a copper mine in the municipality of Kvalsund in northern county of Finnmark. If approved, the mine would annually dump an estimated 2 million tons of toxic mine waste into the Repparfjord and seriously disrupt the reindeer herding of indigenous Saami people.

The Norwegian government has classified the Repparfjord as a National Salmon Fjord, due to the importance of its Atlantic salmon spawning grounds. Coastal fisherman, including Saami sea fisherman are deeply concerned the project will smother habitat critical to salmon,  cod and other marine life. Many  Saami fear the Nussir mine will destroy reindeer grazing areas and disrupt their traditional lifestyle.

Although fjords are at the heart of its identity and economy, Norway is the only country in Europe currently allowing mining companies to dump solid mine waste directly into open water bodies. The fight to stop this mine has unified young people, environmentalists, indigenous people, local fisherman, and marine experts.

Tailings are the sludge left over once the mineral is extracted from the ore. They contain crushed rock, processing chemicals and naturally occurring elements that become toxic when exposed to air or water. This toxic cocktail settles on and smothers the seafloor, killing everything that lives there. Tailings can also spread, contaminating other areas and destroying coral reefs and other habitat.

Nussir is scheduled to begin operating in 2018, and is close to receiving all necessary permits. The company estimates that the project will generate about 150 local jobs, yet the environmental cost for those jobs could be very high. Mine waste dumping in the Repparfjord during the 1970s nearly wiped out it’s excellent fishing grounds, which has just recently recovered. Nussir’s mine is expected to dump 20 times more waste into the fjord.

In January 2018, the Norwegian Government placed a 4-year ban on the issuing of new permits to dump mine waste in the ocean in order to develop a better understanding of the economic and environmental consequences of the practice. The decision does not impact Nussir’s mine, which has already been permitted to dump.

“We oppose the Nussir mine because it threatens our way of life. Reindeer herding and sea fishing is the cultural base of our community and must be allowed to continue. It is essential for future generations.” — Silje Karine Muotka, Member of the Governing Council of the Saami Parliament of Norway