Ny- Ålesund is situated 78° 55’ North and 11° 56’ East. The town lies 1231 km from the North Pole and 107 km north of Longyearbyen. The name Ny-Ålesund was given by the coal company, Kings Bay Kul Comp. A/S. It was domiciled in Ålesund in Norway and operated the mines.

Ny-Ålesund with the airship hangar to the right, ca. 1930. Photo: NP

Kings Bay Kull Compani (KBKC) has owned and operated Ny-Ålesund since 1916. Coal mining was begun in 1917, but the business only lasted 12 years before it was closed. The Norwegian state took over all the shares in KBKC and in 1945 mining was started up again. With the increased demand optimism and belief in the future were at a high. In the course of a few years production reached 60,000 tonnes, but the operating conditions were complicated. Several serious accidents happened in 1948, 1952 and 1953. All together 28 people died.

Modernisation and new equipment were supposed to minimise the risks. In 1961 investments alone had cost the Norwegian state 21.7 million kroner. The build up of Ny-Ålesund came at an unfortunate time. The market for coal collapsed in 1957. The event that broke the operation and sounded the death-knell over the mining community was the great accident of 5th November 1962.

Coal train in Ny-Ålesund 1928. Photo: Svalbard Museum

21 people lost their lives in the mines and for 11 of those the mines became their grave. Altogether 76 people lost their lives in the mines of Ny-Ålesund from 1946 to 1962. The mines were closed and in 1963 the population left. The prime minister at the time, Einar Gerhardsen, had to resign because people thought that security had been neglected.

Ny-Ålesund has since been developed as an Arctic research station. The Norwegian Polar Institute started permanent research there and the place was developed into an international open-air research laboratory. Today Kings Bay AS supplies the entire infrastructure to the different research teams and groups that are active in and around Ny-Ålesund. The winter population is around 30 people, but during the summer the number rises to over 130. The aim is that in the future Ny-Ålesund will remain an active, international, Arctic research station.

By Gerd Johanne Valen