A man fishing in Helsinki in April 2021. A social movement has sprouted against a proposed battery material plant in Hamina, Southern Finland, over concerns about the plant’s impact on the state of the Baltic Sea. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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THE GRANTING of an environmental permit has spawned a social movement against a battery material plant in Hamina, Southern Finland.

The Regional Administrative Agency (AVI) for Southern Finland on 12 February granted the plant an environmental permit for producing around 60,000 tonnes of chemicals a year. While the permit imposes limits on the amount of metals, nitrogen and particles that can be released into air and water, it allows the plant to discharge effectively untreated wastewater into the Baltic Sea.

AVI for Southern Finland ruled that the sulphate contained in the wastewater will cause neither significant detriment to the environment nor risk of such detriment if the plant is operated in accordance with the permit.

Non-governmental organisations have launched a petition that demands that the environmental permit be partly rescinded and the plant be obligated to treat all its wastewater. The petition received over 40,000 signatures in one week following its launch.

“An incomprehensible decision. This is from a different era,” Raija Seppälä, a deputy chairperson for the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (SLL) in Southeast Finland, told Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday.

The sponsors of the petition are especially concerned about sodium sulphate, which can trigger the release of phosphorus from recesses on the seabed and contribute to eutrophication.

They also pointed to the environmental harm caused by sulphate emissions from the nickel mine of Talvivaara in Sotkamo, Kainuu. “At the time, the emissions were at most one-tenth of the amount that’ll be released in the direction of Hamina bay,” highlighted Seppälä.

Jouni Lehtoranta, a senior researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke), reminded that the sulphate emissions should be examined relative to the size of the body water. While the battery material plant would be the largest source of sulphate from land to water, the amount would be small relative to the Gulf of Finland.

“Sodium and sulphate are elements that you already have a lot in a sea environment,” he said to the newspaper. “If the same amount was released into a lake, the effects on the material cycle would be significant.”

The plant is to be operated by CNGR Finland, 40 per cent of which is owned by Finnish Minerals Group and 60 per cent by China’s CNGR Advanced Material.

CEO Thorsten Lahrs on Saturday told Helsingin Sanomat that although the company also received a permit to commence operations with the exception of dredging, it will not do so until the environmental permit has formally entered into effect. The objective of the company, he added, is to build a battery material plant equipped with cutting-edge technology that can start production in the coming years.

The value of the investment has been estimated at roughly 500 million euros.

While Hamina has welcomed the project due to its economic and employment impact, the project kindled opposition already during the permit application phase, with many environmental activists, fishing associations, local residents and non-governmental organisations concerned about the state of the Gulf of Finland.

“The residents are deeply concerned,” said Seppälä. “While people aren’t even allowed to wash their rugs in the sea, a large Chinese-Finnish-owned chemicals plant is allowed to release its wastewater almost untreated into the sea.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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