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Denmark; Greenland: Greenland Votes to Lift Uranium Mining Ban; Considers Independence

(Nov. 18, 2013) On October 24, 2013, in a close vote, Greenland’s legislature, the Inatsisartut (Parliament), overturned a 1988 ban on the mining of radioactive materials. The 15-14 vote will permit uranium, thorium, and rare earth deposits, among other materials, to be mined in Greenland. Denmark’s legislature will also have to approve the cancelling of the ban. Greenland is a semi-autonomous territory of Denmark and has had enhanced independence since it transitioned from “home rule” to “self rule” in 2009. While most issues can be decided locally, foreign and defense policies are established by Denmark. Greenland is rich in mineral resources and rare earths and could in theory provide about a quarter of the world’s needs for those materials. (Greenland Lifts ‘Zero Tolerance’ Uranium Mining Ban, RT (Oct. 25, 2013); Regulatory Issues Other Countries: Denmark/Greenland, WISE-URANIUM (last visited Nov. 13, 2013); Greenland Drops Uranium Mining Ban, WORLD NUCLEAR NEWS (Oct. 25, 2013).)

The Prime Minister of Greenland, Aleqa Hammond, favored the new policy as important to the economy, stating that”[w]e cannot live with unemployment and cost of living increases while our economy is at a standstill. It is therefore necessary that we eliminate zero tolerance towards uranium now.” (Greenland Lifts ‘Zero Tolerance’ Uranium Mining Ban, supra.) Once the ban ends, mining of the rare earths that are needed for the manufacture of electric cars, weapons, wind turbines, and smart phones, will also be possible. (Id.)

Denmark has stated that although it supports Greenland’s development of the mining industry, extraction of uranium has “far-reaching foreign, defence and security implications.” (Greenland Drops Uranium Mining Ban, supra.) For this reason, in addition to urging Greenland to make sure international standards for the mining industry are met, Denmark has said that a framework agreement must be drawn up covering uranium mining and export. (Id.)

The planned policy change was not universally popular in Greenland. The day before the vote, hundreds of citizens in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, protested the end of the zero-tolerance stance that had been in effect since 1988. (Regulatory Issues Other Countries: Denmark/Greenland, supra.)

It was reported on November 8, 2013, that Hammond sees the end of the ban as a step towards full independence from Denmark, with mineral resources providing enough income to replace the current grant from Denmark of around DKK3.3 billion (about US$594 million) per year. (Greenland PM Wants Independence from Denmark, ICE NEWS (Nov. 8, 2013).)