Saving Greenland’s pristine environment from uranium mining

1 August 2014

Hundreds of people marched through Copenhagen and Greenland's capital Nuuk today as part of a NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark protest against the Greenland government's decision to reverse a ban on radioactive uranium mining.

In October 2013, Greenland's parliament overturned a 25-year-old ban on mining mineral deposits that contained traces of uranium. The decision means that areas in the south of Greenland could be opened up to large-scale mining projects for uranium and rare earth metals. In the Kuannersuit region alone, there are enough deposits to make Greenland the sixth-largest uranium exporter in the world – putting it ahead of Russia, China and the USA combined.

With extensive deposits, the impacts of mining, often in pristine natural environments, would be widespread and irreversible. Radioactive waste from the mining process would endanger fisheries and farmland in the region – both of which are vital for local communities. Southern Greenland is the only part of the island capable of supporting farming.

Commenting on the day's events, Palle Bendsen of NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark said "The Greenland government steps up its campaign to convince the public that uranium mining will be beneficial for the country. They employ Danish scientists to inform the population about uranium mining. They are presented as impartial, but their information is actually very pro-mining. We hope the recent demonstrations will be the beginning of a new movement opposing uranium mining both in Greenland and in Denmark."

At the demonstration in Copenhagen, Sara Olsvig, the leader of the opposition party in the Greenland parliament, reiterated her party's opposition to uranium mining and also promised that if the next election results in a change of government there will be a referendum on the issue after a broad public debate.

The protest in Nuuk follows Greenland's largest ever public demonstration in the autumn of 2013. Around 500 people took to the streets in protest against the possibility of granting permits for uranium mining.

Meanwhile in the Greenland parliament, the opposition strongly opposes the decision to reverse the ban, but will likely not be able to overturn it until the next general election in 2017.

A broad alliance of environmental groups from Greenland and Denmark, including NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark, opposes the lifting of the ban on uranium mining. The alliance is now working to raise money to commission an independent report on uranium mining's impact on nature and environment.