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Oil & Minerals
Uranium in Greenland

The fallout continues

Organisers of a planned demonstration against Greenlandic uranium mining accuse the country’s government of quashing opposition
Oil & Minerals
Different clothes, same message (File photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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Greenlanders upset by that country’s decision last year to permit uranium mining are planning to march in Copenhagen tomorrow in the hopes of marshalling public support in favour of reinstating the ban.

Falke Thue Mikailsen, one of the demonstration’s organisers, timed the protest to coincide with an annual Greenlandic festival in Copenhagen that attracts thousands of Greenlanders to the Danish capital.

In October, Inatsisartut, the Greenlandic parliament, voted by a margin of 15 votes to 14 to put an end to the 25-year prohibition on uranium mining. Since then the issue has sparked a wide-reaching debate that has pit the government of the self-ruling member of the Danish kingdom against a host of opponents, including environmentalists and the government in Copenhagen.

Leading the charge in favour of uranium mining has been Aleqa Hammond, the premier.  In repeated statement to the press, she has described the measure as a matter of Greenlandic sovereignty as well as a way for her country to avoid being “victimised people of climate change”, she told Businessweek magazine in May.

SEE RELATED: Greenland leaders split over uranium

Mikailsen, a Greenlander who currently lives in Copenhagen, says part of his concern stems from the mutated explanation for why uranium mining should be permitted.

Greenland has several uranium deposits, but it is one southern deposit that the initial discussions focused on. That deposit was in the same area as deposits of rare earths, and any mining operation for the metals would have required extracting uranium, in violation of the ban.

“The initial reason for repealing the zero-tolerance policy was so they could mine rare earths, with uranium as a by-product,” Mikailsen says. “But it has now been shown that uranium was the main goal all along.”

Since the vote, Hammond’s government, Mikailsen claims, has been doing all it can to keep dissenting voices out of the media.

“Our activities and the material we have about the consequences of this are not allowed to reach the media in Greenland. A lot of money and power is being used to silence all critical voices. The government is using its influence to force the issue through without discussion.”

SEE RELATED: Greenland readies to vote to end uranium ban

The decision to overturn the uranium ban has attracted widespread criticism from Greenlandic and international groups, and last April 48 NGOs from around the world signed a petition to reinstate the ban.

Avataq, a Greenlandic environment group, was one of the co-signers. Mikkel Myrup, its chair, expressed concerns that the repercussions from mining operations will have serious long-term consequences.

“The waste will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years and in the long-term, the mining could cause comprehensive radioactive contamination, which – because of the health risks – would make it dangerous to live in significant parts southern Greenland and make it necessary to ban fishing, hunting, agriculture and animal husbandry there,” he said in a statement.

Mikailsen is hoping the demonstration tomorrow will draw attention to their concerns.

“We’re not demonstrating to make politicians in Denmark and Greenland to listen to us, because we know they don’t care about us,” he says. “We are demonstrating so that we can meet each other and show the world how many we are, and how much we care. “

SEE RELATED: Power to the people

Nevertheless, he believes the protest could result in action.

“If the press would start digging into this they would discover just how serious it is. Uranium is money, uranium is military power, and nobody is supposed to look at it critically.”

Protesters will gather in front of Copenhagen’s City Hall tomorrow at 1pm before marching to the parliament building. Among those expected to speak during the protest is Sara Olsvig, Greenland’s opposition leader.