Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic April 29, 2013 - 6:00 am

Environmental groups urge Greenland, Denmark to stay away from uranium

"Long-term costs of radioactive contamination may...far exceed the short-term economic gain"

JANE GEORGE

On the 27th anniversary of the catastrophic meltdown of a nuclear power reactor in Chernobyl, which took place on April 26, 1986, 48 environmental organizations from around the world urged the Greenland government and the Danish government to maintain their zero-tolerance policy on mining uranium.

Both have recently said they want to lift the ban on uranium mining in Greenland.

Greenland’s environmental group, Avataq, NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark, and the Ecological Council handed their resolution April 26 to Greenland’s premier Aleqa Hammond and Denmark’s prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Greenland’s government has said it’s open to lifting the ban on uranium mining — which could lead to mining for rare earth minerals, commonly used in flatscreen televisions, laptops, iPod earbuds, digital cameras and the heat-resistant magnets used in green technology.

Kuannersuit, called Kvanefjeld in Danish, with the world’s second largest deposit of rare earths and the world’s fifth largest uranium deposit, is located in southern Greenland. The Australian-based Greenland Minerals and Mining Ltd. has been trying to bring the huge deposits of rare earth elements, uranium and zinc through the feasibility phase and into operation since 2007

However, it’s technically impossible to extract the rare earths at Kuannersuit without also extracting uranium.

The environmental groups say uranium mining can be avoided because rare earths can be mined from other places, where uranium is not found along with the rare earths.

The planned uranium mining in Kuannersuit will leave millions of tons of tailings, containing some of the most toxic radioactive materials found.  This waste remains radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and can lead to radioactive pollution, Mikkel Myrup, chairman of Avataq, said in Greenland’s Sermitsiaq AG newspaper.

Contamination could limit farming, fishing and hunting in many parts of southern Greenland, and, in a worst-case scenario, it could even be hazardous to live there, Myrup suggested.

“It is reprehensible that the government will now change course on the issue of uranium mining and also on nuclear power. The project in Kuannersuit can make the Danish commonwealth the fifth largest uranium exporter in the world. But the long-term costs of radioactive contamination may be so great that they far exceed the short-term economic gain from uranium mining,” Christian Ege from the Ecological Council said in Sermitsiaq.

While the Greenland government has control over uranium mining rights in the country, Greenland must ask Denmark for permission before it can move ahead with uranium mining and the mining of rare earths at Kuannersuit.

Reports have suggested that a majority of members of the Danish parliament seem ready to support the extraction and export of uranium from Greenland.

This map from Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. shows the location of the Kuannersuit or Kvanefjeld rare earths and uranium deposit in southern Greenland.
This map from Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. shows the location of the Kuannersuit or Kvanefjeld rare earths and uranium deposit in southern Greenland.
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