Visiting Pyhäsalmi Mine
In this June Jari Joutsenvaara and Henna-Maria Karjalainen of Kerttu Saalasti Institute gave visiting Professor Verônica Angélica Freitas de Paula of Uberlândia Federal University a tour of Pyhäsalmi Mine, which is the deepest still operating mine in Europe. It has a long history in active mining operations, but in following years it will be used in other pioneering ways. It was the first time visiting an underground mine for Freitas de Paula. Our tour consisted of visits to the main level and to a laboratory in the lower leves. Options for getting underground are either a elevator via the Timo Shaft, taking about two and a half minutes, or a 40 minute car ride. Before going down, we were shown videos about the mine’s history and safety protocols.
Safety is naturally the greatest concern in the mine. It is mandatory to wear appropriate gear, including helmets and safety glasses, and for workers to have safety kits containing air masks. Other measures that have been taken to ensure a safe working environment include safe rooms, which can be used in cases of emergency such as fires. The air quality is monitored diligently and the air is said to be better than in many other workplaces. Due to all precautions, being underground felt suprisingly normal and secure even to those who may be ill at ease with the idea of it. To quote Freitas de Paula:”The staff is incredible: always aware, kind, worried about everyone´s safety and willing to explain and show us how it really works inside a mine”. She also said that it was surprisingly quiet, clean and comfortable underground.
At 1410 meters below the ground, the main level consists of areas used for mining operations, various storage and work spaces and a restaurant called Retka, which is Finnish for “pickaxe”. As the mine is still operating, we saw some of the massive machinery used in excavations. Many of them can be controlled both manually and remotely, which improves the safety of the operations. Manual control is secure as well: if there were to be an accident, the driver would survive as the machines are hardy enough to take on a collapse.
Down the tunnels to the new kind of working spaces
As the mine is shutting down its operations and Callio project is aiming to rehabilitate it for further uses, some of the spaces we saw had already been converted to other projects, which we noted during the tour. After exploring the main level, we had a coffee break in Retka, which looked like a typical break room, even with no natural light. We were shown the remote control rooms, in which the controll devices reminded us of those of video games. In Retka there’s also a record-breaking sauna, which has the deepest location in the world. We were told that it’s mainly used during retirement and birthday parties held at Retka.
After Retka, we descended further to Lab 2 at 1430 meters below the ground, a prime example of work spaces in the mine. For the pasts years it was used for physics experiments measuring natural background radiation, but now the physics devices are being moved to the main level and Lab 2 will be used for farming edible insects. This reflects the two key outcomes of Callio project: versatile workspaces for commercial and scientific uses alike. The mine’s importance to the surrounding area and inhabitants cannot be stressed enough, and innovative solutions of Callio aim to maintain industry and entrepreneurship after the mining operations shut down. “I believe there will be lots of future possibilities in the region, as it is also a nice beautiful area”, says Freitas de Paula. She says she really got to experience how work and research have been done in the mine and could never have imagined the visit would be like the one she had.