Greenland’s parliament could cost the country billions of kroner in investments if it does not vote to lift the self-governing territory’s 25-year-old ban on mining radioactive materials, according to Roderick McIllree, the managing director of Greenland Mining and Energy (GME).
GME has spent 450 billion kroner in the past five years on a successful exploration of the Greenlandic underground near the southern town of Narsaq. The company says it has discovered the largest deposit of rare earth minerals outside of China. The series of minerals is vital to modern devices from cell phones to satellite systems.
The company is being funded by South Korean investors who are willing to invest billions of kroner in the uranium mine, which has the potential to create as many as 800 permanent, year-round jobs in an area hard hit by unemployment. The uranium mine would also contribute one billion kroner in annual revenues for Greenland's national treasury.
An historic vote
Greenland’s parliament is expected to vote on October 24 to decide whether the extraction of radioactive substances will be permitted.
Many foreign mining groups, encouraged by Greenland’s investment-friendly policies, have already spent billions of kroner developing potential projects. If permission is granted, a mine could open as early as 2016.
John Mair, the GME executive director, told the Wall Street Journal that ending the ban would be “a dynamic point in Greenland’s history, politically, economically and culturally”.
Still need permission from Denmark
Greenland’s parliament is expected to vote to overturn the ban, but that is only the first step in Greenland beginning to export uranium.
While Greenland’s self-rule government has domain over the country’s natural resources – including uranium – Denmark still has responsibility for its foreign affairs and defence.
And due to uranium’s security significance, it had long been thought, that Denmark would need to agree to permit uranium exports.
However, a recent report commissioned by Greenland’s government said that the country has complete sovereignty over commodities trading, including for uranium, which is regulated by international treaties on non-nuclear proliferation.
Although Greenland is free to sell the metal on the international market, the report states that Nuuk must co-operate with Copenhagen in order to ensure compliance with international conventions preventing the production of nuclear weapons.
Nils Wang, the chief of the Royal Danish Defence College, told Politiken newspaper that Denmark has created a committee to determine what foreign policy consequences might arise should Greenland decide to export uranium.
Negotiations between the two continue, but no agreement appears to be on the horizon.