The Swedish town of Oviken, whose pristine natural surroundings have made it popular with tourists, has the blessing – and burden – of uranium deposits below its soil.
As the pine trees part at the end of the country road, they reveal an unassuming red cottage with a rocking chair on the porch. White roses in the kitchen window give the impression that its occupants are just out running errands.
Yet this cottage, and the traces of upturned black earth around it, are at the heart of a conflict that has divided the highland village Oviken since its owner allowed Continental Precious Minerals (CPM) to take mineral samples beneath its soil.
With mineral prices rising on the global market, largely because of increased industrial and consumer demand in developing countries, international prospectors are at work all over Sweden. In Oviken, at the foot of the Scandes mountains (see map), the drilling of Canadian company CPM has launched a fierce argument over whether the financial opportunities that mining provides are worth the potential environmental impact and cost to the local tourism industry.
The promise of 400 jobs is alluring in a community of 7,000, which predicts it will lose one-seventh of its inhabitants by 2025 as they flee widespread unemployment. But the village also has a middle class that makes a living off tourism and fears what a mine could do to the area's appeal to tourists. They’ve joined forces with the antinuclear lobby because the area's uranium deposits are the main lure for prospectors.
Oviken sits on top of the world’s largest uranium reserve, 1.038 billion pounds by CPM’s calculation. It has so far been left alone because the uranium contained there is below the grade usually deemed profitable to dig up and general resistance to mining. Improved mining techniques have helped changed that, but more importantly the uranium in Oviken is mixed in with vanadium and molybden, both used in alloys. Vanadium is rare and is used in electronic products.
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