Australian company demands $3.3bn from Greenland for uranium mining ban

July 12, 2023
Greenland uranium ban
Anti-uranium protest in Greenland. Photo: Urani Naamik/Facebook

Perth-based mining company Energy Transition Minerals Ltd (ETM, formerly Greenland Minerals Limited) will legally challenge the Greenland government over its rejection of an application to mine uranium and rare earths at Kuannersuit/Kvanefjeld, in southern Greenland.

As reported in Green Left in October, 2021, the then-newly elected coalition government led by the Inuit Ataqatigiit party moved to reinstate a ban on uranium mining.

“We will put an end to all future uranium mining, full stop,” Mariane Paviasen, a Greenland MP and leading activist in the anti-uranium mining movement Urani? Naamik (Uranium? No), told GL at the time.

That ban was formally reinstated in December 2021 and Greenland’s government, the Naalakkersuit, has now published its official rejection of the Kuannersuit/Kvanefjeld rare earths and uranium mining project and declared that ETM is not entitled to compensation.

ETM has claimed compensation of 15 billion kroner (A$3.3 billion) in an arbitration court in Denmark (Greenland has self-governing status but is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark, its former coloniser) and the case could stretch out for months. Greenland's annual gross domestic product in 2020 was just 20 billion kroner.

Louise Voller reported in Danwatch, on May 23: “In spring, two Greenlandic officials from the Ministry of Mineral Resources in Nuuk traveled to Copenhagen. They knew that they were due to appear before the Court of Arbitration, but they did not anticipate what awaited them in the court room located in a glass building overlooking the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen.

“They were met with seventeen lawyers, each representing an international mining company.

“The lawyers were claiming damages that could topple Greenland's economy and an ultimatum to the Cabinet of Greenland: either you give the green light to the controversial Kvanefjeld mining project in South Greenland, or you cough up money.”

Greenland's government announced, on June 9, its formal rejection of the company’s June 17, 2019 exploitation application on the basis that it would mine uranium as well as rare earths.

ETM had argued that the uranium was only a by-product of mining rare earths from the deposit. However, the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment said that approximately 500 tonnes of uranium oxide will be produced per year, on average, and the uranium oxide produced by the project will be sold for use as fuel in nuclear power plants.

Prior to the 2021 elections, the company boasted that the site contained the fifth largest uranium deposits in the world.

ETM still has an application for exploitation of rare earths only from the deposit and that is still under consideration. However, environmentalists have pointed out that this would still risk radioactive air pollution from open cut mining and radioactive waste, including uranium and thorium, would be left in a dump dangerously close to the town of Narsaq.

Furthermore, even if only rare earths are exploited, it would still be a violation of the amended Mineral Resources Act, because the ore contains more than 100 parts per million of radioactive material.

Danish Friends of the Earth campaigner Niels Henrik Hooge told GL that the proceedings at the arbitration tribunal in Copenhagen “are not expected to lead to much”.

“It is likely that the tribunal will just reject the complaint from ETM and not take a position on its substance. Whether ETM will then initiate legal proceedings at a court in Greenland remains to be seen. I think that there is a possibility that ETM will just hold on to its exploration license and hope for a change in the political climate in Greenland.”

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