"Greenland's Turn to Uranium Mining"

Port in Nuuk, Greenland, March 2013 (credit: Staff/Reuters)

See The Simons Foundation's Disarming Arctic Security page for briefing papers on military policies and practices in the Arctic region by Ernie Regehr, Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation.

Greenland's Turn to Uranium Mining

October 28, 2013

The Parliament of Greenland has just voted by a narrow margin to lift the 25-year ban on mining radioactive materials. What that means is a controversial first step along a still very long road toward the mining and exporting of uranium.

That the move is controversial is clear from the 15 to 14 vote and the intense debate the preceded it. The new policy is intended in particular to permit uranium extraction where it exists together with other minerals – namely as part of a rich find of rare earth elements (REE) deposits at the southern tip of Greenland, the Kvanefjeld project near the town of Narsaq.

Greenland Minerals and Energy Limited, an Australian domiciled company, has been exploring the Kvanefjeld region since 2007 and describes it as “one of the largest deposits of rare earth metals in the world.”The REE deposits include relatively low concentrations of uranium, but there is enough of it to be commercially attractive and to lead experts to claim that Greenland’s uranium deposits could turn out to be the world’s fifth largest.

These REEs, rare earth elements, are essential resources for the production of a wide range of hi-tech products, from wind turbines and hybrid vehicles, to rechargeable batteries, mobile phones, computers, and many more. And some 95 percent of currently exploited REEs are now in China – so there is little wonder that the Greenland discovery, “the largest deposit of rare earth minerals outside China, is of intense interest.

Until now, exploitation of that resource has been prohibited by Denmark’s policy of zero tolerance toward uranium mining and nuclear power. It is a policy that has endured for more than a quarter century. In 1985 the Danish Parliament declared that no nuclear power plants would be built on Danish soil, and much earlier than that, in 1957, Denmark declared itself a nuclear-weapon-free state, and, with the support of popular opinion, has been an active proponent of nuclear disarmament (all the while, of course, being a member of NATO, a nuclear alliance).  Continue reading….

Ernie Regehr, O.C. is Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation, and Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo.