Greenland’s uranium ban hasn’t killed off its most talked-about mining project… Yet | Polarjournal
No mines on the horizon (Photo: Greenland Minerals)

At the end of December, the leaders of Greenland Minerals, an Australian-listed firm seeking to begin mining rare-earth elements and uranium in Greenland, asked the country’s mining authorities to clarify what the company’s options are after the national assembly in November reinstated a ban on mining uranium and other radioactive minerals.

Greenland Minerals, according to a statement issued to the Sydney bourse, was given two options: seek to have its current application for approval for the mine it has been seeking to establish since 2007 approved as is, or submit an application for a mining operation that does not violate the ban.

Either way, the outcome will be the same: no mine at Kuannersuit.

Despite all the talk of uranium, Greenland Minerals is mostly interested in exploiting rare earths from Kuannersuit (also known as Kvanefjeld). Unfortunately for Greenland Minerals, the mountaintop location also contains significant concentrations of uranium and thorium (about 300 grams of uranium per ton of rock and 800 grams of thorium per ton of rock, respectively). And getting the rare earths out of the ground will require both elements, as well as a few others, to be dug up in the process.

This has been well understood all along and, indeed, the uranium has long been a part of the business plan Greenland Minerals (originally known as Greenland Minerals and Energy) has sold to investors. The thorium, on the other hand, is to be deposited as waste in a lake close to the mine, something that has outraged opponents.

A panorama view of the Kuannersuit plateau and adjacent fjord (Photo: Greenland Minerals) Click on image to enlarge

For as long as Greenland Minerals had allies in the national government in Nuuk and a majority of the national assembly were behind the project, its approval seemed all but assured, provided it ticked all the boxes along the way. As an example of how keen some legislators were on the project, the ban that was reinstated last year had been repealed in 2013 solely for the purpose of allowing work to establish the mine to move ahead.

The project, however, has been divisive amongst voters from the start, and in April a new government took office after campaigning on a pledge to prevent Kuannersuit from becoming a reality.

Because radioactivity is almost always present in rocks, the ban permits miners to extract some radioactive material when digging after other things, but the level of 100 grams per ton is considered to be “very low” by the World Nuclear Association, a lobby group for the nuclear-energy industry. That is high enough to permit other mining operations to go ahead, but it would, in all likelihood, prevent Kuannersuit from going ahead.

Greenland Minerals says it accepts that Nuuk is free to decide which rules firms operating there must abide by, but it considers the sudden change of policy to be expropriation without compensation, and it says it has hired solicitors to advise what course of action it should take next.

During the 14 years it has been seeking to establish a mine at Kuannersuit, Greenland Minerals has spent a reported €12 billion, and, by the company’s own calculations, Greenland stood to gain €200 million each year during mine’s projected 37-year lifespan.

Increasingly, it is looking like Greenland has put the kibosh on Kuannersuit; but this is one ounce of prevention that may prove a costly cure.

Kevin McGwin

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