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Sweden’s Supreme Court upholds decision on Kallak iron ore mine despite local opposition and environmental concerns

On June 25, Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld the 2022 decision by the previous Swedish government to grant an exploitation concession for a mine in Kallak, located in Jokkmokk municipality in Norrbotten county, Sweden’s northernmost region.

The concession grants exclusive rights to extract iron ore to Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB, a subsidiary of British Beowulf. Despite longstanding opposition from environmental groups, Sámi reindeer herding villages, and local communities, the court’s decision allows the company to proceed with seeking the environmental permit necessary to establish the controversial iron ore mine.

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Following a legal review requested by two Sámi reindeer herding villages, Jåhkågasska and Sirges, along with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in September last year, concerns were raised about significant environmental risks to extensive land and water areas. The Sámi villages argued that the mining plans violated constitutional and international law, fearing it would compel them to abandon traditional reindeer herding practices, endangering their cultural heritage.

The exploitation concession, however, does not authorize immediate mining operations. Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB must secure an environmental permit under Sweden’s Environmental Code, with the final decision resting with the Land and Environment Court. The company anticipates approval by mid-2025, despite ongoing opposition.

Jokkmokk municipality, home to Sámi herding villages and Europe’s last untouched wilderness in Sarek National Park, forms part of the Laponian area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The potential impact on this unique environment has drawn international concern, with UNESCO warning of threats to Laponia’s World Heritage status.

The history of the Kallak mine dates back to the 1940s when iron deposits were first discovered. Since then, the project has faced community protests and regulatory hurdles. Following initial exploration permits granted in 2006 and subsequent contentious applications, the government’s final decision to grant the exploitation concession in March 2022 marked a critical juncture.

Hearings in September 2023 at Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court underscored the complex legal and environmental challenges surrounding the project, reflecting ongoing debates over mining’s role in local economies versus environmental conservation and cultural preservation efforts.

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