Major uranium miner halts Greenland exploration amid ban discussion

France-based Orano will suspend exploration at two sites in southern Greenland, but will keep its licenses

Students emerge from the KTI mine-training facility in Sisimiut, Greenland. The country is banking on the emergence of a mining sector that would generate income and jobs. (Photo courtesy of KTI)

By Kevin McGwin
Arctic Today

One of the world’s largest uranium miners is putting the brakes on operations in Greenland just five months after being issued two exploration licenses there.

The decision by France-based Orano to suspend exploration at two sites in the southern part of the country comes in response to the newly elected government’s open opposition to uranium mining, the company told Greenlandic and French news outlets.

“We respect the direction the newly appointed coalition has chosen, and, as a result, we will not undertake exploration activities for the time being,” Thomas Gwénaël, told Sermitsiaq.

Orano’s exploration activities were to involve aerial surveys and field observations that posed no environmental risk, the company underscored. It will retain the five-year licenses.

The decision comes after Greenland’s premier, Múte B. Egede, and his mining minister, Naaja Nathanielsen, reiterated last week that the new government was opposed to the mining of radioactive elements and would seek to block such projects.

“The coalition does not support uranium extraction,” Nathanielsen said.

The April 6 general election that brought Egede and his party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, to power was preceded by heated debate over whether the Kuannersuit rare earths and uranium mine in southern Greenland should receive final approval after more than a decade in development. Inuit Ataqatigiit fears the Kuannersuit mine would pose a health hazard to the residents of the adjacent town of Narsaq.

Uranium mining has been permitted in Greenland since 2013, but Inuit Ataqatigiit voted against the measure, and it ended up passing by just a single vote. The decision to allow uranium mining also led to the birth of Inuit Ataqatigiit’s current coalition partner, Naleraq, which was formed by Hans Enoksen, a former premier who defected from his party, in part over his personal opposition to uranium mining.

The issue has remained divisive ever since, but with anti-uranium parties now holding a majority in Inatsisartut, the national assembly, Egede’s coalition says it intends to introduce a bill later this year that would reinstate the ban.

Greenland is rich in mineral resources and there is widespread agreement among lawmakers that the sector should be one of the pillars of an independent economy, along with tourism and fishing.

And while the country has in recent years attracted the attention of foreign mining firms, the sector remains underdeveloped, with just two mines currently operational, although five more have been given the go-ahead to begin mining, according to the Mineral Resources Authority.

In 2013, the annual mining survey published by Canada’s Fraser Institute, a much-watched index of political jurisdictions based on geology and policies that affect the sector, Greenland ranked seventh, but since 2014 it has been in the top half of the 100 or so jurisdictions ranked just once.

While the relatively high cost of operating in Greenland is frequently cited a key reason for the slow growth of the sector, miners as well as business groups in Greenland reckon the decline in reputation is mostly a matter of uncertainty about the regulations.

This article originally appeared at Arctic Today and is republished with permission.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by More dependence of govt on

    Funny for a Territory that is trying to be more self-reliant and less dependent on the King of Denmark, this is going to do just the opposite. Sort of sounds like the North Baffin region and the Mary River mine. Economic prosperity? No, lets just let the Federal government keep bailing us out.

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    • Posted by North Baffiner on

      If you could spell properly, I may have taken your point about opposition, but education is the key to understanding why mining at all costs, and especially practices that impact wildlife resources that are priceless to Inuit are opposed… There are many resources available that do not endanger the wildlife – avian, marine and terrestrial species we depend on but apparently only the wages you make is important, not the environment. I am sure you will be able to eat paper when there are no more animals to harvest.
      Baffinland is already approved via the southern route which has less impacts, but they prefer to degrade, pollute and drive away the marine mammals, seabirds, fishes and migratory species in Eclipse Sound that we depend on, so NO THANKS.
      They can stay away completely from Milne Inlet for all we care, since they are approved for 18 million tonnes via Steensby, but keep trying to ship 4+ million tonnes via Milne Inlet port (12 million tonnes is their goal). They figure once all the marine mammals are dead or driven away, Inuit cannot oppose Baffinland. What use is Canada’s Parks and Marine Waters Protection via federal legislation when it is destroying the ecological order in Eclipse Sound? They ignore a narwhal calving ground, seabird colonies and various other marine reproduction areas and yet MR. SOCKS and his ilk wants to keep this mine going.

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    • Posted by Torulf Olsen on

      More actually, the mining companies “empty and run”, leaving all garbage, toxic chemicals and toxic heavy metals – talings in the fjord or dams on shore.
      Most ores are emptied after 5-15 year, and what so for “those unemployed”; Nothing, even the environment is “emptied” and by that; Noting traditional hunting and catches for foods.
      My self have seen and felt it in form of absence of the daily livelihood; all sorts of fish in my homefjord, Repparfjord (nothern Norway, Sàpmi) at the Barents Sea, disappeared in 1975, until after 2005 slowly rebuilt.
      Now the area is in normal good condition. (herring, capelin, cod, halibut, king-crab etc) Healthy environment !
      A new copper-plant is planned – and we have to restart the struggle again.

  2. Posted by Umilik on

    Eco-colonialist groups from the south pay select gullible northerners to attack the very industry that creates jobs and puts food on thousands of tables across the north. It’s time for Northerners to tell groups like Greenpeace, Tides, Sierra Club, etc to go away and stop bribing people to go against the betterment of their own communities.

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