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Ministers will decide “within weeks” whether to let Talvivaara fail

Economic affairs minister Olli Rehn said the time has come to decide whether the government should continue paying millions of euros in taxpayer funds to keep the embattled mine in operation, after a court decision makes finding new investors more difficult. Talvivaara went bankrupt in 2014 following a string of environmental disasters.

Terrafamen purkuputki laskee kaivokselle kertyneen ylimääräisen puhdistetun veden Nuasjärveen.
The waste outlet of the Talvivaara nickel mine in Sotkamo, central Finland, discharges sulphates into Nuasjärvi lake. Image: Kalle Heikkinen / Yle

Ministers will decide within weeks whether to continue paying millions of euros of public money into the Talvivaara mine, or whether to let the beleaguered company fail.

Economic affairs minister Olli Rehn said on Thursday evening that the government is close to reaching a decision on whether to continue its financial support for the mine, which is now owned through the taxpayer-funded company Terrafame. The government has paid more than 200 million euros into the company since it went bankrupt in 2014 following a string of ecological disasters and claims of mismanagement.

”The situation is coming ever closer in which we have to evaluate whether to move from funding the upkeep of the mine’s operations to actively shutting them down,” Rehn announced in a statement. He said the cost of allowing the mining company to fail would be 300 million euros.

Court decision

Rehn’s warning follows a decision published yesterday by the Vassa Administrative Court, which lowered the amount of sulphates the mine is allowed to discharge into the environment, and refused to grant a new, indefinite environmental permit. Instead the court issued a temporary order allowing the nickel mine to continue discharging waste run-off into the Nuasjärvi lake until the end of 2018 only.

At the same time the mining company will have to apply for a new permit by the end of August 2017 to continue with the discharge operation.

The court’s decision places new uncertainty over the long-term operation of the mine in Sotkamo, northern Finland, making the government’s task of finding an investor on whom they can offload the state-supported firm even more difficult.

”It appears primarily that the administrative court’s decision to limit the waste water discharge places huge hurdles in the way of the mine’s water management,” Rehn said.

Increasing difficulties

On Friday morning the chief secretary of the Environment Ministry, Hannele Pokka, told Yle that the court’s deision only serves to add to the difficulties around Terrafame’s waste-water operations. Pokka stopped short of saying whether this means the government should cut its losses and close the company down.

In recent years Talvivaara has become a byword for environmental negligence, following a series of toxic leaks into local waterways which constituted some of the largest chemical spills in Finnish history, and led to criminal prosecutions. The nickel-mining firm went bankrupt two years ago, and now operates under government control and a new name, Terrafame.

The Vaasa court said it would not grant a full environmental permit to Terrafame because of the uncertainty linked to the operation. It cited problems with bio-leaching, water treatment and management, and noted that there have been water problems at the mine since at least 2008.

It adds that the embattled firm still has not managed to get on top of the situation.

Responding to the judgement, Talvivaara said in a statement it will assess the impact of the decision on the ongoing sale of its Sotkamo mining assets to the taxpayer-owned Terrafame.

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