Sokli mining site

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Background information

The information in the following section has been provided by Birthe Weijola (Russia Project Coordinator, Finnish Nature League). It was prepared as a "Sokli-Kovdor background paper" for campaigning in 2011. Some facts changed due to the companies finally figuring out that the at that time discussed option to process the ore at a facility on the Russian side of the border wouldn't work out. However, most information applies to the 2014 situation, too.

The Sokli mine

Yara International bought Kemira Growhow in 2007 and got possession of the rights to exploit the Sokli phosphate deposit in Savukoski (in the Eastern part of Finnish Lapland). Sokli is estimated to be a rich deposit, the yearly production being from 4 to 10 Mt per year, and lasting for a total of 20 years. It is located only 12 km from the Finnish-Russian border, and about 50 km from the Russian mining town Kovdor.

The environmental impact assessment of the Sokli mine was finished in 2009. It listed four alternatives for the exploitation of the deposit, the fourth assuming that the ore is transported to Kovdor for further processing. In the EIA, only the first three alternatives (assuming a concentrate factory is built in Finland) were investigated in more detail.

Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC = Suomen luonnonsuojeluliitto SLL) has been opposing the opening of the Sokli mine, due to its likely impacts on near-by rivers Nuorttijoki and Kemijoki and its cutting off an important ecological corridor between existing protected areas. Also local reindeer herding cooperatives have opposed the mine, which would destroy reindeer pasture areas and cut off seasonal migration routes.

The Savukoski municipality has been supporting the mine project. The mine would have a positive impact on the employment in Savukoski and eastern Lapland, giving work to 700-1,000 people a year during the building phase and 200 people a year during the production phase (alternatives 1-3 in the EIA). If the further processing is placed in Kovdor, the mine would only employ 70-120 people in Finland during the production phase.

Processing in Kovdor

In spring 2010, Yara Finland announced to Finnish media that they will use this year for investigating the fourth alternative listed in the EIA, i.e. further processing of the ore in Kovdor. Only after that investigation is finished, they will make the final decision about opening the mine. Yara Finland has also stated to the media that in the current economical situation, placing the processing facility in Finland is not a profitable option.

The option with processing in Kovdor would require investment in a new road/pipeline/railroad connection from Sokli to Kovdor. The ore from Sokli is likely to be processed in the already functioning apatite-baddeleyite concentrate factory in Kovdor, which is owned by the mining and metallurgy company Kovdor GOK. According to the company website, the concentrate factory has been taken into exploitation in 1975. The phosphate concentrate would be transported from Kovdor along the already existing railway line Kovdor-Kandalaksha.

Kovdor GOK is the second biggest producer of phosphate concentrate in Russia (after JSC "Apatit"). It is owned by the mineral and chemical producing company EuroChem, which has its main office in Moscow. Kovdor GOK doesn't have its own website, but some information about the company can be found on the website of EuroChem.

Kovdor GOK is included in the "Barents Environmental Hot Spots List", which was published in a NEFCO/AMAP report in 2003. The list includes 42 projects ("hot spots") in the Russian Barents region, which are considered priority activities for improving the state of the environment in the region. For the Murmansk region, the report identifies 10 such projects, including more infamous polluters such as smelters "Severonickel" in Monchegorsk and "Pechenganickel" in Nickel.

The environmental and human health problem caused by Kovdor GOK, are described in the report as follows: "[Kovdor GOK] is the second largest, after JSC “Apatit” discharger of industrial waste waters. Since the 1st Report [in 1995], its discharges increased 40%, including more than doubling of sulphates discharge." The investment project proposed by the report is "Reduction of waste water discharges by Kovdor GOK".

A reasonably reliable source about the emissions of Kovdor GOK is the yearly reports on the state of the environment in Murmansk region published by the Committee on Natural Resources and Environmentent of Murmansk region. The reports contain data about concentrations of polluting substances in the main water objects of Kovdor: rivers Kovdor, Mezhel' and Yona.

The specific polluting substances in Kovdor are said to be molybdenum, manganese, phosphates, sulphates and hydrocarbons. The highest concentrations of these substances have been measured in the river Mozhel', in which basin the tailing dam of Kovdor GOK is located. It is clearly stated in the reports that this tailing dam is the main pollution source of river Mozhel'. As can be seen from the graph below, the concentrations of polluting substances in the river surmounted the Maximum Admitted Concentrations during most months in 2007:

Content of polluting substances in the water bodies of Kovdor in 2007
(from left to right: river Kovdor upstreams from Kovdor, river Mozhel', river Kovdor downstreams from Mozhel', river Yona.)
Source: , 2007, p.15)

It is also known that there are problems with dusting from the tailing dam at Kovdor GOK. This is because not the whole dam is covered by water, something which can be seen from satellite images in GoogleEarth. However, this problem is not addressed in the Hot Spots report.

Russian environmental legislation

Russian companies receive their emission permits from the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision, Rostekhnadzor. The permit for air pollution is granted for one year and for discharges into water for four years at a time. Rostekhnadzor also controls that the companies abide to the conditions in the permits by making regular, unannounced check-ups at the production facilities.

The emissions permits have their legal base in the Russian federal Law on the Protection of the Environment. The law defines two kinds of norms for emissions: the Maximum Admitted Emissions (MAE), which is a stricter norm based on national standards, and the Temporarily Agreed Emissions (TAE), which can be used in case the company is not able to meet the stricter norm and under condition that the company is at the same time working to improve its environmental performance.

Russian companies pay a certain prize for the emission rights. If their true emissions surmount the levels in the emission permit, they have to pay a fee that corresponds to five times the prize of one emission unit. One known problem is that it's often cheaper for Russian companies to pay the fee than to invest in technology for cutting their emissions.

Another problem is that Temporarily Agreed Emissions could possibly be granted quite light-heartedly.

The individual emission permits and the results of the control of companies carried out by Rostekhnadzor are not handled as public information. The documents about Kovdor GOK could be obtained from Rostekhnadzor on basis of a written request, but according to NGO sources in Murmansk region, there is no guarantee that they would be handed out.

The Environmental Impact Assessment procedure in Russia does not significantly differ from the ones in other European countries. Sergey Zhavoronkin at WWF Murmansk believes that if it was decided to process ore from Sokli in Kovdor, it would require the undertaking of a state environmental expertise including an EIA and public hearings.

WWF's Basic Principles for Responsible Policy for Mining Companies

WWF Russia has published a set of "Basic principles for environmentally and socially responsible policy for mining companies" (2009), which have also been approved by a coalition of Russian environmental NGOs. The publication is part of WWF Russia newly started program on work with mining companies.

Yara International

Yara is a multi-national, Oslo-based company. It is the world's largest supplier of mineral fertilizers and has operations in more than 50 countries, including Russia. Sustainable development is an important value for Yara, and the company's environmental policy includes aims to reduce emissions and energy consumption. Emission levels at production units are "monitored closely to ensure that allowable levels are not exceeded".


It's important to send a signal to mining companies that there are international principles for environmental policy that should be followed everywhere. It shouldn't be possible to use the differences in environmental legislation and environmental responsibility of Nordic and Russian companies for "exporting" environmentally harmful production to Russia. This is not in line with the principles of the Barents cooperation, and would be a harmful development for the environment in the whole region.

Literature and sources

Last updated 10.2.2011


Sokli mine, natural disaster being prepared in Eastern Lapland

Several foreign companies are about to attack unique Finnish natural environment. Not even Santa Claus is left alone as Yara plans to build the huge Sokli phosphorus and uranium mine near Santa’s mountain Korvatunturi. Yara´s decision whether to put its plan into effect is expected this year.

The Sokli area is located in Eastern Lapland between the Urho Kekkonen National Park and the Värriö Nature Park near Korvatunturi, the home of Santa Claus. The area further includes the famous Tuntsa wilderness and three Natura Network locations.


The Norwegian state is the largest shareholder of Yara International. On its homepage Yara advertizes its work for a cleaner Baltic Sea. Yet the company is now planning a phosphorus and niobium ore mining in Sokli.

The phosphorus ores in Sokli contain ten times the amount of radioactive material in uranium, thorium, radium of normal levels (STUK, Moilanen, 2010). In the niobium ores, the levels are even 200-fold. Yara intends to mine phosphorus 4-10 tons per year and to use this phosphorus to make fertilizers. There are concerns about the radioactivity levels of fertilizers (see EPA, 2013).

When covered by soil these radioactive materials are quite harmless, but during mining operations they are released into nature. Many uranium compounds are water soluble and spread easily with dust and drainage water into nature.

Here local inhabitants go picking natural products like berries and mushrooms, reindeer roam, ecotourists and fishermen wander in these still clean nature reserves.


The Sokli mining area is a central reindeer herding area where this age-old sami tradition is a major livelihood for many villages. Young families have made investments and built their future on reindeer herding. The prospective mine will completely destroy the traditional reindeer pastures contaminating the soil and some of EU’s last clean, natural state rivers.


The Yara company intends to build a huge waste water basin in the middle of the wilderness. From there waste water will be drained via Nuortti River to Russia and via the giant Upper Kemi River to Kemi Lake, to the mainstream of Kemi River and finally to the Gulf of Bothnia, which is the northernmost, still quite clean part of the Baltic. Mud will fill the basins and destroy the recently restored spawning areas of trout species.


At best, the mines will be in operation only a couple of decades leaving a large part of Eastern Lapland a radioactive waste depository.

Decision makers must recognise these threats to nature, the economy and culture. The interests of mining companies should not be promoted in the name of employment.

The prospective Sokli mine area will be between 4000-6000 hectares (40-60km2).

Uranium mining would destroy Lapland´s unique tourism brand successfully built up by local people over decades.