History

There is a long history of mining in Sør-Varanger. Mine inspector Tellef Dahll discovered iron ore deposits in 1866, and in 1905 Christian A. Anker was granted a permit to mine in Sør-Varanger. German, Swedish and Norwegian private capital was invested in 1906, and the first load of iron ore was railed from Bjørnevatn to Kirkenes in 1910. The towns of Kirkenes and Bjørnevatn developed as a result of the mining operations. 

The mine operated from 1910 to 1997 with over 200 Mt of ore mined. Sydvaranger was the largest mine in Norway for most of this period. The mine produced magnetite concentrate (67.5%Fe), super high-grade magnetite concentrate (72% Fe) and iron pellets for the European market. The mine was operated by German forces during World War II and as a result of the considerable conflict in the area and Sydvaranger’s strategic importance, significant damage to infrastructure and facilities was incurred. The mine infrastructure was subsequently rebuilt with Marshall Planfunds by the Norwegian government, leading to a highly profitable period in the1950’s and 1960’s. 

Large government investments in long-term infrastructure took place in 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s meeting the challenge of lower iron ore prices in a strategically important part of Norway. The mine was government-owned and operated until 1997 as an asset of regional strategic importance due to proximity to Russia. The majority of the capital works from this period remain intact. Extensive production facilities were constructed within and beneath the surrounding country rock, including: silos to ensure a weatherproof and efficient port operation, a five story underground crusher facility, extensive ancillary underground tunnels and conveyor network. US$470m was spent on capital works in the 15 years leading up to 1997. The company was forced to close due to persistently low iron ore prices in 1997and the subsidence of cold war tensions.

Recent history

The mine, rail and processing facilities were refurbished in 2008 and recommissioned in 2009 by ASX-listed Northern Iron Ltd. The mine operated from 2009 to November 2015 with 20 Mt of ore mined and 8 Mt of magnetite concentrate (68% Fe) sold to Europe, the Middle East and China. The product is well known with low levels of impurities. Major customers included Tata and ArcelorMittal in Europe, Bahrain Steel and Chinese steel mills. In excess of USD 250 million was invested in new equipment, refurbishment and debottlenecking of the process facilities. The mine and the production facilities operated with increasing efficiency, reliability and subsequently lower costs until November 2015. The rapid market deterioration in 2015 ultimately forced the mine to close.  

In April 2016 the Tschudi Group acquired the Sydvaranger Iron Project. All equipment necessary for a restart of operations was secured and is routinely maintained. The project has all the necessary permits for a restart of operations, with the exception of the mining concession which is currently under consideration by the mining regulator.  A successful and profitable production campaign took place in 2016, producing approximately 100 kt of high grade iron ore concentrate. The project provided an excellent opportunity to exercise the production line and demonstrated the ability to rapidly restart operations. 

Sydvaranger has since focused on activities to support the restart of operations for the long term. This work has included an extensive analytical program to upgrade the geological database from drill core gathered over the past 100 years, an independent verification of the Sydvaranger resources as well as mine engineering designs that underpin a sustainable and responsible operating plan. Additional work is ongoing to further reduce risk and ensure operational readiness in anticipation of the mining concession being received.  
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