October 2, 2009 / 2:39 PM / 9 years ago

Greenpeace blocks Arctic coal mine in Svalbard

* Protest against coal production in pristine Arctic region

* Conveyer belt blocked, delaying ship headed for Portugal

By Wojciech Moskwa

OSLO, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Environmental activist group Greenpeace blocked on Friday a coal mine in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago deep in the Arctic, protesting plans for more coal production in one of the world’s northernmost regions.

More than a dozen protesters stopped a conveyor belt at the Svea mine carrying coal to a ship due to sail to Portugal with 70,000 tonnes this weekend.

“Coal is a huge climate change factor yet Norway wants new mines in one of the most pristine regions in the world,” protester Martin Norman told Reuters by phone from Svalbard.

He said some protesters planned to spend the night in a tent pitched on the conveyer belt, weather permitting. The weather there was sunny and the temperature a crisp minus 8 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) and expected to get colder overnight.

For decades coal mining was unprofitable in Svalbard — an archipelago nearly the size of Ireland located halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

But mining was maintained during the Cold War to keep a Western presence on the Arctic islands, which are controlled by Norway but offer free access to a number of other nations under an international treaty from 1920.

Russia still has a Soviet-era mining community on Svalbard.

Norman said the state-owned Svea mine, the largest in Norway, was due to export 2.5 million tonnes of coal this year and remain in operation until about 2014.

At that time operations would commence on the other side of the same mountain and plans also envisage building a road across a glacier to set up another mining site, he said.

“We can not allow this,” said Norman. Norway’s trade and industry ministry was not immediately available for comment. (Editing by James Jukwey)

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