An agreement on uranium extraction in Greenland is expected by the end of the year, the prime ministers of the two countries confirmed on Wednesday (8 January), despite lingering tension between the two sides.

Greenland Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond, met with her Danish counterpart, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in Copenhagen on Wednesday (8 January) to discuss how the two sides could work together on extracting uranium in the Arctic country.

Both said they expected a cooperation agreement later in 2014 but it was clear that disagreement over Greenland's right to extract and export uranium continues to fuel tensions.

Greenland, a former Danish colony, was granted home rule in 1979. Thirty years later, the Arctic country assumed self-determination with responsibility for judicial affairs, police, and natural resources, but the Danish government is still in charge of foreign affairs, financial and security policies.

"Uranium is obviously a special commodity and therefore we need to have a cooperation agreement in this area," Thorning-Schmidt was quoted as saying by the Danish news agency Ritzau. She said the question fell under defence, foreign and security matters, on which Denmark still had responsibility in Greenland.

Hammond emphasised, however, that she would not let the Danish government decide and control the extraction of the precious mineral. She pointed to a report commissioned by the Greenlandic government, published in October last year, and a recent opinion by a Danish expert in constitutional law, which both concluded that the country had full sovereignty over commodities trading, including radioactive substances.

No interference

Uranium, a toxic and radioactive metal, is a strategically important mineral for the nuclear power and defence industries.

For 25 years, Greenland has had a zero-tolerance policy on mining radioactive materials, but this policy was repealed in October 2013 when Greenland's government won a debate in the parliament by one vote.

The Danish government has continuously expressed its concern that large-scale exploitation of uranium in Greenland is against its environment policies and could affect both countries' foreign and security policies on the international stage. 

In November, Hammond told the Danish press that she understood why Denmark wanted to interfere on the matter, but the country should respect that Greenland had rights over all the commodities in Greenland.

"We want to cooperate, but it's us who have the competences and rights," Hammond said.