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Lars Rowe Obtains PhD on the History of the Pechenga Nickel Plant

Lars Rowe. Photo: Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies(12.02.2013) Last week, Senior Research Fellow Lars Rowe successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis on the history of the nickel plant in Pechenga. In his thesis, Dr. Rowe has aimed to answer the following main question: Why do Russian industrial emissions continue to harm Norwegian territory?

The Russian nickel plant in Pechenga, just a few kilometers from the Norwegian border, is still emitting large quantities of industrial waste. Norwegian authorities have, since before the collapse of the Soviet Union, unsuccessfully attempted to limit transboundary pollution from the Russian nickel industry. In 2010 the Norilsk Nikel concern, Pechenganikel's owner, withdrew from further cooperation with the Norwegians. The so-called "death clouds" from the east remain a problematic issue in the Norwegian-Russian bilateral relationship.

The strategic importance of nickel

In his thesis, Lars Rowe discusses the reasons behind Norway's failure to effect an improvement in this matter. He traces the long lines, starting in 1920 when Pechenga/Petsamo was ceded to Finland and subsequently industrialized by the Canadian nickel giant INCO. Rowe then examines why Germany controlled Finnish Petsamo during four war years and why the Soviet Union re-annexed the area in 1944. The common denominator was the strategic value of nickel: it was an important input in both powers' military industry.

Industry versus environment

The nickel plant in Pechenga became part of the Soviet military-industrial complex after World War II. Its production increased, and the polluting effects were severe. When Norwegian authorities pressed for discharge reductions from the mid-1980s onwards, they were met with a Soviet tradition that emphasized industrial rather than environmental goals. Rowe demonstrates how conflicting objectives remained a major obstacle to the modernization of the nickel industry in Pechenga throughout the 1990s and until 2010. The two countries were never able to find a common ground: Russian industrial ambitions and Norwegian environmental concerns are simply not reconcilable, Rowe concludes.

Dr. Rowe wrote his Ph.D. thesis at FNI, to which he has been affiliated since 2002. Currently, he is on a one-year leave at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. Lars Rowe is the third FNI researcher to defend a Ph.D. the past two months.


 The Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) is an independent foundation engaged in research on international environmental, energy, and resource management politics.
The Institute maintains a multi-disciplinary approach, with main emphasis on political science, economics, and international law.

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