Last update:
2019-10-20

Greenland Mineral Ltd.'s Kuannersuit/Kvanefjeld Rare Earth-Uranium Project, Greenland

The controversial Kvanefjeld/ Kuannersuit Rare Earth – Uranium Project proposed by Australian Greenland Minerals Ltd. would be one of the world’s largest open-pit uranium mines and undeveloped resources of rare earth elements [1].


Description:

Greenland’s geology is made up of a rich range of mineral deposits. With rising temperatures due to changes in the climate, new mining opportunities are emerging while the Arctic shipping season is extending [2]. Despite this, costs and risks of mining in Greenland remain high due to harsh arctic conditions, limited infrastructure and the remoteness of mine deposits [2]. Following Greenland gaining self-governance from Denmark in 2009, the area of natural resource extraction has come under Greenlandic rule, which has since encouraged the development of the natural resource extraction industry and welcomed foreign investment [3]. Over the past years, international interest in Greenland’s mineral deposits containing rare earth elements (henceforth REEs) has expanded rapidly given their unique physiochemical properties which make them indispensable in the moderntechnology industry [2]. REEs are used in renewable energy, communication technologies, electric vehicles and many more [2]. China has a particular interest in Greenland’s REE deposits given their dominance of the production and processing market of REEs and consequent expertise in the field [2]. Simultaneously, interest in Greenland’s uranium resources is also increasing following a decision by the Greenlandic parliament, Inatsisartut, to uplift the country’s zero-tolerance policy on nuclear mining, which since has become one of the Greenland’s most divisive political issues [4,5]. The discovery of uranium at Kuannersuit (also Kvanefjeld) in Southern Greenland dates back to 1956 and Danish exploration took place up until the 1980s when the Danish government dropped their plans to develop nuclear energy plants [6]. Alongside the interest in Greenland’s mineral deposits, the country’s strategic geographical position in the Arctic region has resulted in competing geo-political tensions increasing around Greenland.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Greenland Mineral Ltd.'s Kuannersuit/Kvanefjeld Rare Earth-Uranium Project, Greenland
Country:Greenland
State or province:Southern Greenland
Location of conflict:Kujalleq
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral processing
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Uranium extraction
Specific commodities:Uranium
Rare metals
Zinc
Fluor
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Kuannersuit Rare Earth – Uranium Project is situated in the municipality of Kujalleq, around 8km from the town of Narsaq in the southern part of Greenland. The mining area is composed of three mineral deposits (Kvanefjeld, Sørensen and Zone 3) in an area of around 120km2, of which GML (previously named Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd.) currently proposes to develop the Kvanefjeld deposit [1]. The project proposal includes the construction and operation of an open-pit mine, a processing plant, a port, mine accommodations, tailings facilities, road infrastructure connecting the mining project and a power supply including a large dam, reservoir and power generating station [1]. EIAs were conducted by the Danish consultancy Orbicon A/S [15].

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Project area:12,000
Level of Investment:505,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:1350+ (population of Narsaq)
Start of the conflict:2007
Company names or state enterprises:Greenland Minerals Ltd. (GME) from Australia - Project owner
SRK Consulting (SRK) - Geology and resource evaluation; mine design
China Nonferrous Metal Industry’s Foreign Engineering and Construction Co., Ltd. (NFC) from China - REE processing
Orbicon A/S from Denmark - Conducting EIAs
Shenge Resources Holding Co. from China - Main investor
Relevant government actors:Naalakkersuisut (Government of Greenland) - Environmental Agency for Mineral Resources Activities (EAMRA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Avataq (Grønlands natur- og miljøforening).
Urani Naamik/No To Uranium Society - Nuuk, Narsaq .
NOAH (Friends of the Earth Denmark) (https://www.noah.dk/) .
Det Økologiske Råd (The Danish Ecological Council (https://www.ecocouncil.dk/).
VedvarendeEnergi (Sustainable Energy) (https://ve.dk/).
Nuup Kangerluata Ikinngutai/Nuuk Fjords Venner.
Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC).
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts, Displacement
Other socio-economic impactsLoss of cultural identity; influx of foreign labour; lack of work security in other sectors including tourism; community divisions; major sense of uncertainty
Outcome
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:In interviews conducted with local residents, suggested alternatives to the mining project included the expansion of the tourism sector, agriculture, fisheries and fish processing [16]. However, interviews also showed the reluctance of local residents to invest in developing these alternative initiatives as long as there was uncertainty around the outcome of the mining project [16].

In a joint press release published by environmental organisation ‘NOAH’, a speaker for the organisation ‘Sustainable Energy’ (‘Vedvarende Energy’) highlighted that alternative mining projects would be possible in nearby locations such as Killavaat Alannguat/Kringlerne [33]. Here REE deposits have also been discovered and could be extracted without uranium as a bi-product and the consequent risk of nuclear waste pollution [33].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:An evaluation of the EJ issues in the case of the Kuannersuit project must be understood in light of the country’s socio-economic background, and more specifically with an understanding of the community in Narsaq. There are differing voices in the debate on natural resource extraction in Greenland, creating what Hansen et al. (2013) have described as environmental and ethical dilemmas [16]. Many business leaders, politicians and Greenlanders view natural resource extraction and mining activities as a means to boost economic activity and create employment [38]. With more and more young people emigrating from the island in search of further education or employment and Greenland seeking greater financial independence from Denmark, mineral exploitation is regarded as a way to help mitigate these issues and this has become one of the dominant if not the most dominant discourse around mining [2, 17]. The Greenlandic government is therefore actively encouraging new large-scale mining projects [3], of which the Kuannersuit REE-Uranium project has become one of the most divisive mining projects in Greenland to date. However, the ability to gain financial independence from Denmark on the basis of mining has also been questioned given the size of Danish subsidies, emphasising the continued importance of the fishing, hunting and agricultural industries [39]. In Narsaq, the town is experiencing increased emigration, and there is a general consensus from residents both opposing and supporting the project that something needs to change in order for the town to ‘survive’ [16, 17]. With both support and opposition existing among locals living close to the proposed project site in Narsaq [16], it is therefore difficult to evaluate what outcome would be considered a success for the community. One survey conducted by WWF found that 53% of survey participants from the Southern Greenland region supported uranium mining in general [29]. However, on the basis of one survey referring to uranium mining generally and not specifically interviewing local residents, these results cannot be held equivalent to opinions on the Kuannersuit project. Many local residents of Narsaq and nearby areas have mobilised against the project in demonstrations and signed petitions faced with the risk of nuclear pollution (see account of mobilisations above). It is important to note that local residents opposing the Kuannersuit project are not necessarily against mining in general, as the debate around Kuannersuit is highly focused on the question of uranium [16]. However, central to the debate around the controversial project has been the question of whether public consultation has been adequate [26, 27]. The view that public consultation needs to be improved in the environmental and social impact assessments is shared by local residents in Narsaq and nearby Qaqortoq both in favour and opposed to the project [16]. The lack of appropriate public consultation and engagement is a clear issue of procedural injustice and improvements are being demanded by local populations not only in the Kuannersuit project but also in other mining projects across the country [16, 18, 26, 38]. The short public consultation period and bias of information sessions regarding the project as well as the lack of transparency on issues of compensation are amongst some of the issues that are being raised. Furthermore, fieldwork conducted by Hansen and Johnstone (2019) in southern Greenland shows how some local residents in Narsaq felt that the debate around the Kuannersuit project was being directed by strong external actors and polarised between international environmental NGOs on the one side and the mining company on the other [16]. Interviews with local residents conducted by Bjørst (2016) also pointed to two dominant discourses around this project; on the one hand the mining sector ‘saving’ the community (creating jobs etc.) and benefiting Greenlandic economy, and on the other NGOs arguing that the project will ‘destroy’ the community and environment [17]. They consequently felt marginalised in these competing agendas, which points to serious limitations in procedural justice. In addition to this, there have been calls from environmental organisations and the Greenlandic party IA to hold a referendum on uranium mining, but so far these have not been met [28]. Altogether, these issues indicate serious EJ concerns and point to the project so far being an EJ defeat.

From the perspective of environmental organisations Urani Naamik (No to Uranium, Greenland), NOAH (Friends of the Earth Denmark), Avataq, ‘Det Økologiske Råd’ (The Ecological Council), ‘Vedvarende Energy’ (‘Sustainable Energy’), Nuup Kangerluata Ikinngutai (‘Friends of Nuuk Fjord’), the political party IA, local residents in opposition and sheepfarmers - who have shown opposition to the Kuannersuit project on environmental justice grounds - the approval of the Kuannersuit project would likely be deemed an EJ defeat. However, it remains to be seen what the outcome of the project will be given that GML’s extraction license is currently being processed by Naalakkersuisut (status 15/10/19).
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[5] Hannestad, A. (2016) ‘Uran er igen et varmt emne i Grønland.’ (Translation: ‘Uranium is a hot topic in Greenland again’). Politikken, 27/04/16.
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[26] Siegstad, M. O. og Fægteborg, M. (2015) ‘”Ajorpoq” – vi får ingen svar. Bedere borgerindraggelse om Kuannersuit.’ (Translation: “Ajorpoq”- We are getting no answers. Better public involvement regarding Kuannersuit). Investigative report for ICC Greenland with NGO-coalition for public involvement.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Mining Technology. (n.d) ‘Kvanefjeld Rare Earth – Uranium Project.’
[click to view]

[31] Rasmussen, J. (2018) ‘Borgere i Narsaq kræver svar om uran.’ (Translation: ‘Narsaq residents demand answers about uranium’). Sermitsiaq, 16/05/18.
[click to view]

[32] Turnowsky, W. (2019) ‘Demonstrationer mod uranudvinding ni steder.’ (Translation: ‘Demonstrations against uranium extraction nine places’). Sermitsiaq, 24/04/19.
[click to view]

[34] Kieval, M. (2018) ‘Yours, Mine or Ours? The Kvanefjeld Multi-Element Project in Narsaq, Greenland.’ The Polar Connection, 25/07/18.
[click to view]

[36] Birney, M. (2018) ‘Greenland Minerals sets growth plan with Chinese shareholder.’ Business News Western Australia, 21/08/18.
[click to view]

[1] Mining Technology (n.d.) ‘Kvanefjeld Rare Earth – Uranium Project.’
[click to view]

[11] NOAH (2019) ‘Uran: Ejeren af Kuannersuit/Kvanefjelds-projektet undergraver miljølovgivningen.’ (Translation: ‘Uranium: Owner of Kuannersuit/Kvanefjeld project undermines environmental legislation’). Press release, 21/09/19.
[click to view]

[33] NOAH (2013) ‘URAN: Sjældne jordarter kan udvindes i Grønland uden uran.’ (Translation: ‘URANIUM: Greenland’s rare earth elements can be extracted without uranium’). Press release, 10/03/13.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Greenland Minerals Authority (2019) ‘Greenland Day (PDAC 2019) –S2P2: Kvanefjeld rare earth project by John Mair, Greenland Minerals Ltd.’ 20/03/19. Last accessed: 05/10/19.
[click to view]

Other documents

GML complaint regarding the EIA process The director of Greenland Minerals Ltd. sends a complaint letter regarding the EIA process of the Kuannersuit project to the EAMRA at Naalakkersuisut in April 2019.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Louisa Mathies, EJ Atlas, ICTA-UAB
Last update20/10/2019
Comments
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