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The Nussir Case and the Battle for Legitimacy: Scientific Assessments, Defining Power and Political Contestation

Part of the Springer Polar Sciences book series (SPPS)


This chapter investigates the process of opening the Nussir copper mine in Kvalsund, Finnmark County, Northern Norway, and the efforts that have been made to legitimize it locally. Particular attention is paid to the way both scientific and lay knowledge influence political decisions in relation to the recently approved mine, with a tailings depository in a nearby fjord. The aim is to explain why conflicts persist over the project’s knowledge base, despite formal requirements for a comprehensive and participatory assessment process having been followed. Through interviews, document analysis and a review of media coverage, the chapter concludes that local acceptance of the mine is represented by the municipal council approval of the developers’ assessment program (AP), although this acceptance is not shared by all, as controversy around the environmental impacts of the project persists. After the municipality approved the company’s zoning plan (that followed the AP), the decision-making process shifted to the national level, rendering the local dialogue less relevant. Further, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process did not contribute to local legitimacy, as there was little local involvement in its production, while the content of the EIA is virtually inaccessible to local residents due to its sheer size and technical jargon. An EIA process with more local participation and incorporating local knowledge would not have avoided the conflict over the monetary and non-monetary valuation of the Repparfjord area, but it could have resulted in a knowledge base that was less controversial, more legitimate and therefore provided a more solid basis for future operations. However, this would have required local politicians to admit that the decision to open the mine was primarily a matter of politics, and not a technical matter which can be resolved to the satisfaction of all solely through the production of scientific knowledge.


  • Arctic mining
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Environmental governance
  • Boundary work
  • Social license to operate

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-62610-9_8
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Photo 8.1


  1. 1.

    Rusfheldt, interview, December 2nd, 2014.

  2. 2.

    In several interviews, local stakeholders have expressed sympathy with Nussir’s approach to outreach and information flow during the process.

  3. 3.

    Film directed and produced by Harald Einarsson, 2013. Available at, accessed February 10th, 2016

  4. 4.

    Mr. Knut Altmann, quoted from the film «NUSSIR – dream about Finnmark», see footnote 3.

  5. 5.

    Statement taken from notes taken during conversation with interviewee # 6, June 2014.

  6. 6.

    Nussir and Ulveryggen are the mountain ridges included in the application for extraction.

  7. 7.

    Personal communication, Dannevig, 14.05.2014

  8. 8.

    For a more detailed description of early findings, initial mining crackdowns and small scale outtakes, see Lund 2015, pp. 39–41.

  9. 9.

    Called “planprogram” in Norwegian.

  10. 10.

    See Chap. 11 for a discussion on how these processes are part of a governmental aim to secure resources and (the needs of a larger, national) population; processes where center-periphery security concerns may differ.

  11. 11.

    Referred to in the local newspaper Sagat on October 12th, 2015.

  12. 12.

    Statistics Norway,, accessed February 3rd, 2016.

  13. 13.

    Interviewee #4, 04.02.14

  14. 14.

    First published August 16th, 2015., accessed February 3rd, 2016

  15. 15.

    Interviewee #12, 15.04.14

  16. 16.

    Interviewee #11, 15.04.14

  17. 17.

    See Dagens Næringsliv, December 8th 2015:, accessed September 15th, 2016

  18. 18.

    Interviewee #8, 14.04.14

  19. 19.

    Informants confirmed that in 2011, over 10 tonnes of salmon were caught in the river.

  20. 20.

    Interviewee #5, 13.05.14

  21. 21.

    The Ministry of Municipalities took over responsibilities for the handling of land use planning issues from the Ministry of Environment in October 2013.

  22. 22.

    This is in stark contrast to the municipality of Kautokeino, which rejected the AP and the entrepreneurial initiatives of the company Arctic Gold outright, as they argued that they did not need knowledge of the impact of the proposed mine (in the form of an EIA), because they already knew that they did not want the mine (see Chap. 8).

  23. 23.

    Interview #7, 13.5.14 and interview #8, 14.5.14

  24. 24.

    NRK Sapmi 11.07.2013; Sagat 11.09.13

  25. 25.

    Sagat, 9.11.13

  26. 26.

    Interview, Øystein Rushfeldt,

  27. 27.

    Interview #12, April 15, 2014

  28. 28.

    Interview #6, April 13, 2014

  29. 29.

    Interview #4, June 26, 2014.

  30. 30.

    Interview #4, June 26, 2014.


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Correspondence to Halvor Dannevig .

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Dannevig, H., Dale, B. (2018). The Nussir Case and the Battle for Legitimacy: Scientific Assessments, Defining Power and Political Contestation. In: Dale, B., Bay-Larsen, I., Skorstad, B. (eds) The Will to Drill - Mining in Arctic Communites. Springer Polar Sciences. Springer, Cham.

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