As Greenland nears uranium decision, opponents fear public won’t be heard

Protestors call on pro-uranium lawmakers to hold referendum as part of approval process for controversial mine.

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Protestors gather in Nuuk on May 15 to demonstrate against uranium mining. (Urani? Naamik)

Opponents of uranium mining in Greenland staged a pair of demonstrations on Tuesday to urge newly elected lawmakers not to approve a planned mine in southern Greenland without holding a referendum first.

In Nuuk, about 150 protesters gathered outside the national-assembly building while lawmakers were meeting for the first session after the April 24 election. They were there to express their concern about wording in the agreement struck by the new governing coalition on May 5 that indicates it will support for the Kvanefjeld mine.

If approved, Kvanefjeld would create some 800 jobs and make Greenland the world’s second-largest producer of rare earths, a category of mineral used to produce the magnets found in modern high-tech products.

[Greenland needs money. Is a uranium mine the answer?]

However, given the geological make-up of the area where the mine would be located, it is not possible to operate there without a by-production of other materials, including uranium, zinc and fluorspar.

Greenland Minerals and Energy, which expects to invest $450 million in preparation for opening the facility, plans to submit environmental and social impact assessments to law makers in June.

If they are approved, the assessments will be subject to public consultation before final approval can be given.

[In 2017, Greenland could see its first new mines in several years]

Urani? Naamik (Uranium? No Thanks), the group organizing the protests in the capital and in Narsarq, near where the mine would be located, worries that the government’s outright support for Kvanefjeld means the results of the public consultation will be of little consequence.

Opponents of the mine fear the radioactive dust kicked up by operations there will drift over Narsaq, located some 6 kilometers away, fouling an area that residents promote as an agricultural region and a destination for anglers.

Uranium mining has been permitted in Greenland since 2013, when the national assembly voted by a single vote in favor of overturning a blanket ban.

While the opposition remains opposed to uranium mining, it has proposed holding a referendum in connection with the approval of individual projects.