Greenland report paves way for sovereign uranium mining

Alequa Hammond.jpg

A new report commissioned by the Greenland government has concluded that the country has full sovereignty over commodities trading, including for uranium, which is regulated by international treaties on non-nuclear proliferation.

The report was kept confidential for more than six months but recently  published as Greenland's parliament prepares to vote on 24 October on whether to allow the extraction of radioactive substances in Greenland.

The outcome of the vote is expected to be a clear ‘yes’.

Greenland, a former Danish colony, was granted home rule in 1979. Thirty years later, Greenland 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.

For 25 years, Greenland has had a zero-tolerance policy on radioactive substances and government sources have told the Danish newspaper Politiken that Denmark and Greenland were on a collision course over uranium extraction.

Uranium is a toxic and radioactive metal which can affect a person's kidney, brain, liver and heart after exposure. But it is also a strategically important metal for the nuclear power and defense industries. Large-scale exploitation of the mineral could change Denmark's and Greenland's standing on the international stage.

“The Kingdom of Denmark would not have a legal interest in trying to prevent extraction, export and sale of uranium for peaceful purposes including energy purposes. According to our assessment, the Greenlandic government can enter these kinds of deals without consulting the Danish government,” the report says, implying that Denmark should be informed of all trade deals involving uranium.

The report also underlines that Denmark and Greenland would have to cooperate in order to ensure compliance with international conventions preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Secret committee

Nils Wang, the Chief of the Royal Danish Defense College, said that the report showed that Nuuk and Copenhagen were on a collision course.

“The new Greenlandic government has the view that Greenland has full control over its minerals, including uranium. This is not a view shared by Copenhagen. Denmark has set up a secret committee to get a clarification of what the foreign policy consequences of uranium exports from Greenland would mean. This committee has been set up by the foreign ministry’s security policy’s office which underscores that these two countries completely disagree on the issue,” Wang told Danish newspaper Politiken.

Cindy Vestergaard, an expert on nuclear weapon at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said the report would be the first of many trying to evaluate which country should decide on uranium in Greenland.

The new report is clearly in favour of the Greenlandic government, she said, adding that Nuuk would have to prove that it can prevent its uranium from being used for military purposes.

Greenland, for its part, sees uranium exploitation as a new export opportunity.

The Danish government has until now rejected commenting on the issue. Two weeks ago Greenland’s prime minister Aleqa Hammond met with Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. After the meeting Hammond said, “We agreed to disagree.”

Greenland is a self-ruled territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. The world's second largest island after Australia, it is about half of the size of the EU.

Around 57,000 people live in Greenland, making it the least densely populated country in the world. Only 44 politicians are in charge of the country, including ministers, MPs and mayors.

Greenland was granted home rule in 1979, but the Danish government is still in charge of foreign affairs, financial policy and security - including defence, police and justice. Denmark provides a subsidy of 3.4 billion crowns (€457 million) per year.

Greenland joined the European Common Market along with Denmark in 1972, but left the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1985 over the bloc's commercial fishing regulations and ban on seal skin products.

  • 24 Oct: Greenland's parliament to vote on uranium extraction

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