Greenland drops uranium mining ban

25 October 2013

Greenland's parliament has voted in favour of lifting the country's long-standing ban on the extraction of radioactive materials, including uranium. The move could enable the Kvanefjeld project to proceed.

Drilling at Kvanefjeld (Greenland Minerals)
Exploration drilling at the Kvanefjeld project (Image: GME)

The country introduced a zero-tolerance policy concerning the mining of uranium and other radioactive elements in 1988, while under Danish direct rule. However, in a 15-14 vote, the parliament yesterday voted to remove that ban, opening up the possibility for companies to begin mining uranium and rare earth minerals.

The island of Greenland took a step towards greater autonomy from Denmark in 2009 with the official transition from 'home rule' to 'self rule.' This saw Greenland assume full authority over its mineral and hydrocarbon rights, which had formerly been overseen by Denmark. However, Greenland remains part of the kingdom of Denmark and its defence and foreign policies are still determined by Copenhagen.

In September 2010, the Greenland government, led by the Inuit Ataqatigiit party, amended legislation to allow companies to conduct feasibility studies on potential mining projects containing elevated concentrations of radioactive elements. The government initiated a series of reports in 2012 to address the consequences of removing the zero-tolerance policy. These reports set out to address the regulatory roles of both Greenland and Denmark in managing uranium exploitation, identify all international conventions that would need to be adhered to, as well as investigating the potential environmental and health risks.

The Danish government responded to Greenlan's move by saying that while it supported Greenland's decision to develop its mining industry, the extraction and export of uranium could potentially have "far-reaching foreign, defence and security implications." While calling for Greenland to ensure that the highest international standards are met during any future uranium mining and export, Denmark said that the two countries will now develop an agreement to establish a framework for further cooperation.

Prospective mine

Australia's Greenland Minerals and Energy (GME) - owner of the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earth element project in southern Greenland - welcomed the move. It said the "landmark decision" places Greenland "on the path to uranium-producer status, and thereby opens up coincident resources of rare earth elements to exploitation."

The Kvanefjeld project is currently the subject of a definitive feasibility study to evaluate a mining operation for the production of uranium, rare earth elements and zinc. Pre-feasibility studies suggest that Kvanefjeld, with JORC-compliant indicated and inferred uranium resources of some 575 million pounds U3O8 (over 221,000 tU), could be among the bottom half of uranium producers in terms of cost and one of the lowest cost rare earth element producers in the world.

GME said it is "now looking to work closely with regulatory bodies to lock in the configuration of the Kvanefjeld project." This will allow it to finalize environmental and social impact assessments and submit a mining licence application.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News