Kiruna, a town in northern Sweden, is facing a threat to its existence due to the world’s largest iron ore mine, controlled by the state-run company LKAB. This town, home to over 18,000 individuals and a 600-tonne wooden church, is set to experience one of the most radical relocation projects in the world. With the iron ore mine causing subsidence, cracks have emerged in essential buildings like hospitals and schools. At least 6,000 residents are expected to move away from the sinking town and will face a gradual rise in rent over the next 8 years.

The Kiruna Church

In 1912, Kiruna became home to a 600-tonne wooden church that has been a cultural center of the community. The terracotta-coloured church, designed to resemble a hut of the indigenous Sami people, is set to be relocated three km east of the old town to near the local graveyard in the next three years.


The LKAB, founded in 1900, is the largest iron ore mine in the world and produces 80% of the European Union’s supply of iron ore. The company hopes to drive autonomy for natural resources and be at the forefront of Europe’s green industrial revolution. In 2021, the company began producing fossil-free sponge iron by replacing coal with hydrogen produced from green electricity. Additionally, the LKAB announced it had discovered the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in Europe, important for producing electric car batteries and wind turbines.

Impact on the Local Community

The transformation of Kiruna has raised alarm among many, including the Sami people. Centuries before the LKAB started their mining operations, the Sami people would herd reindeer throughout the Arctic lands. However, their way of life is now under threat, with mining and human activities causing fragmentation of the land and making reindeer herding more difficult. The Sami people also fear that any disruptions to their ancient activity would compromise their rights to the land.

An LKAB spokesperson stated that two Sami villages have already changed their herding routes since the mine opened, and the company is working on minimizing the impact of their operations. However, another Sami village named Gabna might have to change their herding routes due to the discovery of the new rare earth elements.

Kiruna is set to experience one of the world’s most radical relocation projects as the town is being consumed by the largest iron ore mine in the world. The fate of the town’s residents and the 600-tonne wooden church is intertwined with the state-run company LKAB. Although the company is working towards a green industrial revolution and minimizing its impact on the local community, the transformation of Kiruna will have significant effects on the town and its residents.

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