Sydvaranger has a long mining history. Mine inspector Tellef Dahll first discovered iron ore deposits in 1866, and in 1905 Christian A. Anker was granted a permit to mine in Sør-Varanger. German, Swedish and Norwegian private capital was invested in 1906, and the first load of iron ore was railed from the Bjørnevatn ore deposit to the town of Kirkenes in 1910. The towns of Kirkenes and Bjørnevatn both developed as a result of the mining operations.
The mine operated from 1910 to 1997 with over 200 million tonnes of ore unearthed. Sydvaranger was the largest mine in Norway for most of this period. The mine produced magnetite concentrate (67.5% Fe), super high-grade magnetite concentrate (72% Fe) and iron pellets for the European market. The mine was operated by German forces during World War II. As a result of the considerable conflict in the area and Sydvaranger’s strategic importance, significant damage to infrastructure and facilities was incurred. The mine infrastructure was subsequently rebuilt with the assistance of Marshall Plan funding by the Norwegian government, leading to a highly profitable period for the mine in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as post-war Europe rebuilt.
Large government investments in long-term infrastructure took place in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s offsetting the challenge of lower iron ore prices. The mine remained government-owned and operated until 1997, as an asset of significant strategic regional importance due to its proximity to Russia. The majority of the capital works from this period remain intact. Extensive production facilities were constructed within and beneath the surrounding country rock in the town of Kirkenes, including: silos to ensure a weatherproof and efficient port operation, a five story underground crusher facility, extensive ancillary underground tunnels and a conveyor network. US$470m was spent on capital works in the 15 years leading up to 1997. Unfortunately the company was forced to close in 1997, due to persistently low iron ore prices and the subsidence of cold war tensions.