Finnish Mining Industry in International Comparison
Finland has a long tradition in mining industry. In the beginning of the 20th century all the rich ores of world class were discovered: copper ores in Outokumpu, nickel ores in Pechenga, Kola Peninsula (present Pechenga Nickel, subsidiary of Norilsk Group in Russia).
These deposits constituted the basis for a vivid and technically innovative smelting industry with centres in Kokkola and Harjavalta among others. In these plants new processes like the flash smelting method, in which copper can be extracted from sulphide ore with excellent energy economy, were developed and became the world’s leading ones. Later the development has been expanded, and nowadays the mining equipment industry constitutes a more important economic part than the whole mining industry in Finland.
The Finnish mining industry has, however, undergone a distinct transformation process in recent years. Fifteen years ago domestic players accounted for extensive ore exploration, much of it with support from government agencies and the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK). Such exploration for ore has now virtually ceased and in due course also nearly all mining operations, roles that have largely been taken over by foreign companies. For a summary of the growth since 1950, see figure 1.
There has always been lack of capital in the Finnish mining industry and the state’s influence has been great. For decades Outokumpu, controlled by the state, was the leading mining and technology company. Like the Swedish LKAB, Outokumpu functioned just like any private company but had the advantage of a long term engaged owner. In the past years Outokumpu has partly been privatised and left the mining branch, apart from the Kemi chrome mine connecting to the newly built steelworks in Tornio. Instead, numerous bigger and smaller companies -both domestic and foreign- have taken the initiative in the Finnish exploration and mining industry.
Zinc, copper, nickel and chrome ores are produced in Finland. From a European perspective Finland is one of the leading mining countries. The products from the past few years are shown in the table 1. However, it is the industrial minerals, minerals that are not used for production of pure metals such as dolomite, limestone, talc and other minerals, which nowadays constitute the main part of the Finnish mining industry. Finland is the biggest producer of talc in Europe and one of the most important resources of carbonates which are used e.g. as pigment in paper industry. The apatite production for manufacturing fertilisers is extensive and the Siilinjärvi mine is by far the biggest in Finland.
Table 1. Mining production in Finland. Source: the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.
|- tonnes (million tonnes)||3,6||3,7||6,3|
|- tonnes (million tonnes)||4,3||4,4||4,6|
|INDUSTRIAL MINERAL MINES||22||23||20|
|- tonnes (million tonnes)||11,9||12,1||11,3|
|TOTAL NUMBER OF MINES||45||47||45|
|- tonnes (million tonnes)||19,8||20,2||22,2|
The potential to find new ores from the so called Fennoscandian shield is considered to be good, especially as the Finnish bedrock has not been explored enough meaning that there has been less money invested in the exploration per square kilometre than in any other comparible district anywhere in the world over time.
In the past years the exploration in Finland has been relatively constant and high level differing from the global trend which went downwards until 2003 and changed direction after that. Finland is the leading exploration country in Scandinavia. In 2007 over 54 million EUR was explored in Finland. See figures 2 and 3.
The list of the active exploration companies is long. The materials that are in the focus of the interest are: diamonds, gold, PGE (platinum group elements), zinc and nickel in addition to exploring uranium. Besides the industrial minerals, talc and limestone are searched, too.
The conditions for exploration and mining operations are strongly competitive in Finland when compared to other mineral rich countries in Europe but also including Canada and Australia. In Finland, landowners already receive a certain compensation in the exploration stage. This has made public attitude towards the branch positive. The mining industry is one of the few alternatives for economic development in many parts of the land.
There is work going on to modernise the Finnish mining legislation and to renew the handling of the exploration and mining licences. Some propositions for the new administrational routines among the exploration work have leaked out, for example increasing information demands to landowners. These proposals have been paid a certain amount of attention, but the fact is that even if they go through -which is still unclear- the climate for exploration and mining operations in Finland is, overall, highly competitive internationally. And there is probably a lot that remains to be discovered.