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Greenland drops uranium mining ban

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Greenland's parliament has voted in favour of lifting the country's long-standing ban on uranium mining. The move could enable the Kvanefjeld uranium / rare earths project to proceed. The country introduced a ban on the mining of uranium and other radioactive elements in 1988, while under Danish direct rule. However, in a 15-14 vote, the parliament voted to repeal the ban on October 24.[1]

The vote came after five hours of heated debate that saw efforts to bring a no-confidence vote against the government, as well as a failed vote to put the ban to a referendum.[2] Sara Olsvig from Inuit Ataqatigiit, the largest opposition party, said: "We sought a compromise with the government and proposed that parliament decide on whether to conduct a broad information campaign followed by a national referendum. The government chose to ignore this proposition, as they also chose to ignore the many demonstrations against uranium and for a referendum, held in numerous towns in Greenland, the day before and on the day of the vote. The demonstration held in Nuuk is said to be the largest demonstration in Greenland for 29 years."[4]

Australia's Greenland Minerals and Energy − owner of the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earths project in southern Greenland − welcomed the move. The Kvanefjeld project is currently the subject of a feasibility study.[1]

The Aboriginal-led Australian Nuclear Free Alliance will write to the Danish government, urging it to intervene. Greenland is a self-governing member of the Danish kingdom, but its defence and foreign policies are determined in Copenhagen. Whether uranium mining and export can proceed without Danish support is a contested question. It is possible − but unlikely − that the Danish Parliament will vote on the matter of uranium mining in Greenland. The Danish government has made an agreement with the Greenland government declaring their common intention to regulate export of uranium together.

Gitte Seeberg, the head of WWF Denmark, expressed regret that parliament had not respected the wish of a majority of Greenlanders and held a referendum. "Greenland could become one of the world's biggest uranium exporters, and that calls not just for parliament's approval, but also the approval of the people," Seeberg said.[2]

Avataq, the Danish Ecological Council, NOAH FoE Denmark and others have been fighting the proposal to repeal the uranium ban.[3]

A non-binding referendum may be held covering Southern Greenland including the Kvanefjeld project. The Greenlandic Premier Minister Aleqa Hammond promised such a referendum in her opening speech at the autumn session of Parliament and the promise has not been revoked.