Finland’s government decided Friday to grant new public funding for its troubled Talvivaara mine, cancelling a previous plan to permanently close what was once the European Union’s biggest nickel mine.
The unprofitable mine fell into the state’s hands in 2014, when its private operator Talvivaara Sotkamo went bankrupt after two major leaks spilt toxic levels of nickel, cadmium, uranium, aluminium and zinc into nearby lakes and rivers of the Kainuu region, situated around 500 kilometres north of Helsinki.
After having invested over 700 million euros of public money in the mine over the years, the government announced last May a plan to begin its gradual shutdown by the end of this year, followed by expensive environmental clean-up operations.
But on Friday, Finland’s Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn changed his mind.
The government “backs an additional funding of 100 million euros for Terrafame,” Rehn told reporters in Helsinki, referring to the mine’s current operator, publicly-owned Terrafame Ltd.
“The premises for reaching profitability in the mining activities are realistic now,” he added, citing rising nickel and zinc prices and Terrafame’s efforts to put the business back on track.
The company has rapidly increased its production and its sales are expected to exceed 100 million euros this year, but Terrafame’s head Lauri Ratia admitted losses are still piling up at a rate of 10 million euros a month.
“We aim at our cash flow turning positive by the beginning of 2018,” Ratia said.
Rehn said the fresh public funding allowed for negotiations to continue with investors on finding a new private owner for the mine, but he refused to reveal any names.
He said the mine and the activities around it account for around ten percent of the region’s gross domestic product.
But some locals are furious at the government for allowing the mine to continue its operations.
To resolve the mine’s flooding problem, Terrafame has built a discharge pipe to release refined waste waters into another nearby lake.
Pekka Pera, the founder and former chief of Talvivaara mine, was ordered to pay a fine of some 20,000 euros last May over toxic dumping while two other executives were ordered to pay smaller sums.
All three have appealed.