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Oil & Minerals

Uranium ban overturned

A narrow majority of the Greenlandic parliament passed a measure to overturn the country's ban on uranium mining
Oil & Minerals
Greenlandic residents demonstrating yesterday in favour of keeping the ban in place. Polls showed a majority were against the repeal (Photo: Scanpix)

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By the slimmest of margins, Greenland’s parliament has passed a measure to overturn the country’s ban on uranium mining.

Coalition partners Siumut and Atassut secured 15 votes in favour of the measure to end the ban, implemented in 1988. Fourteen voted against.

Speaking in favour of overturning the ban, Greenland’s premier, Aleqa Hammond, said it was a matter of economic priorities. 

“We can’t stand by as unemployment rises and the cost of living goes up, while our economy remains stagnant. We need to overturn the ban now.” 

Today’s vote came after five hours of heated debate on the floor of parliament that saw efforts to bring a no-confidence vote against the Siumut-led government, as well as a failed vote to put the ban to a referendum.

With the ban now lifted, the government can began processing applications from mining firms seeking to begin operations that involve extracting uranium, either as a primary product or as a by-product. 

Among the firms eagerly awaiting the outcome of today’s vote was Australia-based Greenland Minerals and Energy. The mining outfit is hoping to begin mining rare earths in the Narsaq area of southern Greenland, but cannot do so without also removing uranium from the soil. 

Efforts to reach GME for comment at both of its Greenland offices, as well as its main office in Australia went unanswered.

Gitte Seeberg, the head of WWF Denmark, a conservancy group, recognised Greenland’s need to develop its economy, but expressed regret that parliament had not respected the wish of a majority of Greenlanders and held a referendum. 

“Greenland could become one of the world’s biggest uranium exporters, and that calls not just for parliament’s approval, but also the approval of the people,” Seeberg said.

Greenland is a self-governing member of the Danish kingdom, but its defence and foreign policies are determined in Copenhagen. 

A Foreign Ministry statement said Copenhagen supported Greenlandic efforts to develop its mining industry, but inidcatated that because uranium “could potentially have a wide-ranging effects” Nuuk and Copenhagen had agreed to co-operate closely on the issue.