‘ You can’t live in a museum ‘: the struggle for Greenland’s uranium

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A minuscule city on Greenlands southern tip-off is fighting for their own lives. Behind it sits one of the nations of the world largest sediments of uranium. Is a contentious excavation the answer?

It is a beautiful morning on the southern tip of Greenland; the sunshine is high-priced in a cloudless sky, but there is a tang of cold in the air. A gang of Spanish tourists in cherry-red parkas has gathered at the small pier in Narsaq, to watch boatmen who have just returned from hunting a minke whale on the high seas. From the shoreline, the Spaniards watch the men below busy themselves, slicing the whale meat into slippery rectangular clumps. They drive swiftly, as if cleaning up the scene of an emergency, deferring to one young man in orange overalls. As parole spreads that a catch has landed, neighbourhood parties arrive with carrier bags and choose from the gashes laid out on the bloodstained floor of the little ships bobbing in the liquid. The purses are slung on handheld scales; today, whale meat expenses 80 Danish kroner a kilo, about 9. A girl pushes a wheelbarrow down the jetty, loaded with what looks like a ribcage.

The whale hunter is a symbolic figure in Greenland but the spurt the Spaniards are observing is humdrum, devoid of ritual. Sebu Kaspersen, the hunter in orange overalls, explains that there was a allay sea and they could see a lot of whales; they shot one with a rifle and then fuelled a harpoon to finish it off. It is, he says, the second minke whale he has killed this year, the limit of his quota. His living predominantly comes from fishing halibut, and hunting shuts for their scalp; mostly, he works alone, without a crew.

Soon the Spaniards get bored and put away their cameras. Their Argentine guide, fresh from Patagonia, gets them into their kayaks for a dates paddling in the fjord, giving instructions on how to avoid colliding with the iceberg glimmering in the sunbathe, lest a dangerous shard come disintegrating down. In the evening, when they return, they will probably have dinner at Hotel Narsaq, the only hotel in this town of 1,500 parties, sharing the restaurants sector with four Americans from New Jersey, two fathers and their sons who have come to Greenland by private aircraft to shoot musk ox, and who are raucou in their was approved by President Trump.

When the whale meat has been sold, the city terminates back into a charming torpor. The paved road through the light-green, yellowed, red-faced and ochre wooden mansions is predominantly exhaust; a zigzag of smoking rises from a chimney against a sky flashed with contrails. Women and men carry shop and pushing prams up the hill toward the inn. Occasionally, the tranquillity is burst by a Volvo tractor roaring jerkily along. In the afternoon, teenagers pick on a slope, while men and women sit drinking on terraces. In the square near the supermarket, two teenagers are exchanging hotdogs and chippings from a van parked in front of a bit police headquarters.

Not far away, on the edge of city, the darkness lengthen on the dusty football tone that sits beneath the mountains overlooking Narsaq. From here, you are able to review straight up the glacial valley to the Kvanefjeld plateau six kilometres now. In the past few years, the townspeople have become used to the helicopter taking off and platform near the football pitch, ferrying drill rigs and other supplyings; there, gentlemen are working hard to find the mineral riches buried in Greenlands mountains.

Sebu Kaspersens living mainly comes from angling halibut, and hunting seals for their skin. Photograph: Sirio Magnabosco/ Arctic Times Project

When he saw Narsaq in July 1957, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr was perhaps the most famous scientist in the world. A Nobel reward win, he had worked on the Manhattan Project that produced the first atom bomb drooped on Hiroshima. But by the mid-1 950 s, he was a proselytiser for peaceful purposes of nuclear energy. There is a photograph of Bohr countenancing honorary citizenship of Narsaq, bending over a lectern set up on a patch of grass, speaking into a microphone. Behind him are officials from Denmark, which had operated Greenland as a settlement since the 18 th century; at the edge of a audience reaped some interval away, three Inuit children watch him with insignificance. In the weeks before Bohr arrived that summer, Danish geologists had taken tests from Kvanefjeld containing predicting different levels of uranium. His nightmare was that Greenlands uranium could corroborate a nuclear power plants curriculum in Denmark.

Sixty years later, the daydream is the fact that it will provide the key to Greenlands independence. Since 2009, small island developing has been an autonomous administrative fraction within Denmark, presenting its 56,000 inmates hold over local resources. The feeling of full independence within future generations or two is the dominant theme of local politics even if the price of cracking free would be an annual Danish subsidy worth some 7,500 a head.

There are few alternatives when it comes to changing that coin: fishing already accounts for more than 90% of Greenlands exports. But in the last decade, quarrying has emerged as ways and means to industrialise Greenland, creating a fiscal base for independence. Government delegations have toured Australia and Canada, forearmed with geological canvas, aiming to convince the worlds extending mining communities that Greenland is a rich informant of minerals potentially the 21 st centurys brand-new frontier.

As interest has grown in 2013, the governmental forces awarded four times the increasing numbers of journey licences approved in 2003 so has the pressure to cancel a 1988 banning on uranium mining: this prevented the extraction of uranium, as well as any minerals that might have uranium as a byproduct. In 2013, after a debate that partitioned the country, Greenlands parliament voted narrowly to cancel the ban.

Kvanefjeld, near Narsaq , is one of many potential mines. Last month, an Australian busines was given the green light to begin construction of a zinc and lead excavation on the northern coast; there are currently 56 active licences to explore mining for golden, rubies, diamonds, nickel, copper and other minerals elsewhere.

But uranium has stirred Kvanefjeld the most controversial programme, and the focus of a debate of determining whether this is the financial route that Greenland should pursue.( The most common dispute caused against is the danger that radioactive dust will fall on neighbouring agreements and farmland .) An Australian-owned busines, Greenland Minerals and Energy( GME ), has expended virtually 60 m developing a plan for an open pit excavation here. It was due to submit an environmental impact assessment by the end of 2016, but the deadline has been extended.

Last September, a Chinese fellowship took a 12.5% stake in GME, with an option to increase that to 60%. On the one hand, this proposes strong religion that the project will go ahead; on the other, the spate is now under investigations conducted by Greenlands government, concerned that they may eventually be dealing with a Chinese mining company , not an Australian one.

In a move that voices counterintuitive, GME is promoting its mine as a contribution to the new global light-green economy. Harmonizing to the company, 80% of the commercial deposits in Kvanefjeld are rare earth minerals, commonly used in gust turbines, hybrid vehicles and lasers; uranium details for only 10%. The grocery for rare earth minerals is deciding this, says actions manager Ib Laursen. Everybody is looking for them. Instead of Greenland being a passive receiver of global warming from the western world, it could contribute to light-green engineering.

It is a clever pitch. Greenlands ice sheet had now become the benchmark assessment for the parade of global warming; study published in September demonstrating that ice loss is intensifying more rapidly than previously horror. Greenland is also the emblematic scapegoat of climate change: Inuit hunters and anglers are announced on in international conferences, to describe how their traditional lives are being destroyed by warming oceans.

Fridrik Magnusson: You know you can go and sit and keep watching the iceberg for half a daytime, a whole epoch. Photo: Sirio Magnabosco/ Arctic Times Project

But what the rest of the world see as slithering ruination, local politicians see as an opportunity. The melting ice expanse will see some minerals more accessible, and divulge others that are so far unknown. The attention that climate change has brought to Greenland has also made the country a more desirable tourist destination. In the last decade, the government had been a big increase in the number of ocean liner stopping along the coast, and there are plans to build new airports.

Independence may be a distant prospect, but the goals and targets of self-sufficiency overshadows any fear that Greenland may change beyond identification. Its a question of mentality, and whether you decide to be part of a advance or a passivity, says Vittus Qujaukitsoq, minister of industry, labour, craft, power and foreign affairs( a wide-ranging brief that manifests both the strategic importance of mining and the intimate scale of local politics ). There are only two choices. Either you sit and “ve been waiting for” the opportunity to come. Or you work to comprehend what opportunity draws along.


While “theres been” desultory strives at mining in the past, Narsaq countenances little tracing of it. Today, its serenity be brought to mind the town of Sulaco, the fictional prepare for Joseph Conrads novel Nostromo, in which British and American investors obtain spectacular abundance from a silver quarry in a South American backwater.

It is difficult to word-painting an open crater mine in the mountains behind Narsaq, to reckon the road through the valley busy with trucks and machinery, and carries waiting to be loaded with ore in a new port, built in the little inlet where tourists currently weave in kayaks and the only obtrusive sound is the occasional boom of sparkler collapsing into the sea. Like the silver-tongued in Nostromo, the rare earth and uranium in Kvanefjeld would turn the city into the blessed responsibility of great opportunities and of largest payments. And like Conrads English administrator, Charles Gould, whose faith in the excavation was contagious, the Kvanefjeld mine has its booster in Ib Laursen, the continuing operation director who has become the public face of such projects. A Dane who has lived in Narsaq for over a decade, Laursen is promising 2,000 tasks during the construction of the excavation and a new harbour, and a further 800 permanent jobs( 300 for neighbourhoods) over the next three decades. Receipt from taxation and royalties will help Greenlands economy take off, Laursen says: instead of driving away sightseers, the quarry will fund the development of airports, roads and inns to captivate them.

Most of the nations of the world rare earth minerals come from China( six state-owned endeavors see practically 90% of the planets equip ), and the scale of environmental degradation there has given open quarry mining a bad reputation. Concerned locals in Greenland invoked personas of wasted landscapes and kitties of poison and radioactive waste, gleaned from a Google search. Similarly, its own history of uranium mining has is an element of blithe indifference for the environmental issues though the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development( OECD) claims that growing awareness makes it “the worlds largest” regulated and one of the safest different forms of mining in the world.

Laursen presents his mine as an environmentally friendly alternative to Chinese ours, modelled on international standards of best pattern. He says the fears of radioactive dust move over south Greenland are groundless. The crushed rock abandoned once the minerals have been extracted, known as tails, will be turned into slurry and carried in a gas pipeline to the bottom of a nearby lake. It would never surface as dust, Laursen says: the lagoon is likely to be sealed in perpetuity by an impermeable dam.

Klaus Frederiksen and Aviaja Lennert have 600 sheep on 67 acres an hours ship travel from Kvanefjeld. Image: Sirio Magnabosco/ Arctic Times Project

Laursen is insulting of Greenlanders opposes the mine: Its like windmills in Denmark everybody wants sustainable energy, but they dont want a windmill in their backyard. And he challenges those working in all countries in the world scared by the prospect of large-scale mining. You cannot live in a museum you have the right to prolong your beings. Is it OK for Europe to cut down groves, but object to one projection in Greenland? Its not a banana republic. This country is huge one or two ours will not destroy its integrity. He claims to be unfazed by the lengthy endorsement process GME has been required to undergo. Greenland is occupied by doing this right, and I am likable to doing a thorough responsibility. You dont just wanted to hurry-up an industrial revolution.

The very hypothesi of an industrial revolution, speedy or cautious, is not reassuring to many living in and around Narsaq. Enough dark-green orbits have been carven from the hillsides in this region of Greenland to attain sheep farm profitable. Klaus Frederiksen and Aviaja Lennert have 600 sheep on 67 acres an hours boat trip from Kvanefjeld. Tractors and slice of apparatu are left haphazardly on the grass around their live overlooking the fjord; three sheepdogs scamper and bark. Their business became more expensive because of a long summer shortage they blame on climate change; with their neighbours, they had to payment a ship to import fodder from Denmark.

Frederiksen and Lennert firstly heard of plans for the mine six years ago, when they went to a neighbourhood institution to watch a presentation by four scientists three women and an elderly soul who had come from Denmark, and who they now remember had been hired by the government in Greenland. The scientists told them that the excavation would induce south Greenland more prosperous and increase demand for their lamb. But Frederiksen was alert to the dangers of radioactive dust because he had studied sheep farming in Norway in the mid-9 0s, when animals there were still affected by the fallout from Chernobyl. The scientists said they would remove dust from the excavation by dispersing it with liquid. Well, water is generally frozen here in the winter, Frederiksen tells me now, so I asked them, How are you going to have water to sprinkle then? And they said they would answer that when the environmental impact assessment arrived. When person asked if it was possible to have no pollution in a mining sphere, the elderly humanity told us there had never been mining without pollution. Frederiksen and Lennert imagine most of the sheep farmers oppose the quarry, but they eschew too many gossips about it in cases where: polarisation gambles peace, and they might need each other in difficult times.

Fridrik Magnusson, the Icelandic owner of the Hotel Narsaq, is in a similarly fragile outlook and tries to stay neutral. I dont want to be greedy I know half the city requires the excavation for effort, but I would rather keep the equanimity of the place and the knockout of it, he says. His spouse, Katti, grew up in Narsaq, and they moved here from Reykjavik so that their children could be close to quality. Its the calmness. You know you can go and sit and watch the iceberg for half a period, a whole day.

In the last decade, Narsaqs population has fallen by 10%. Picture: Sirio Magnabosco/ Arctic Times Project

After putting a lot of work into starting the inn and opening a little brewery, they were initially worried by the prospect of anti-personnel mines that might drive sightseers away. But they also know it will bring a lot of people here. The inn will be full all the time, the restaurants sector is likely to be busy the whole time and the brew will be running in all directions. We dont know how things will be. They talk about uranium dust over the village; they talk about the liquid being polluted. I dont want to believe any of it: how are you going to have a thousand people working here if its all going to be polluted? I dont know.

In the last decade, Narsaqs population has fallen by 10%; it suffers the highest unemployment of any town in Greenland. In the 1970 s, Kattis uncle Jorgen Olesen and his three friends made a very good living crowding their ships with shrimp, delivering their loads to the factory where the shrimp were peeled, frozen and carried to Denmark. The factory labor from daybreak to dusk, each of their barges impeding 15 people in undertaking. But just as cod disappeared in the 1970 s, the shrimp has moved, and the government backed profitable mill trawlers at the expense of the independent anglers. The prawn mill shut six years ago, and is now a slaughterhouse where sheep farmers draw their lambs. Until his sudden death last month, Olesen acquired his living ferrying sightseers around the fjords.

This streamlining of the fishing industry was accompanied by a crush on public spending. Many boroughs around Greenland were incorporated. Narsaq lost its social services, which were transferred to a bigger town nearby. People just lost hope or those who are interested in being here, because its become more difficult, says Paninnguag Lind Jensen, a tattoo artist and sometime tourist template who divides her day between her residence municipality and the capital, Nuuk. Only people who really expresses concern about Narsaq will stay here. Public cant get wield, and they stay here and start booze. Six of the 30 pupils in her graduating class at school have killed themselves.

Operations director Ib Laursen. Image: Sirio Magnabosco/ Arctic Times Project

The opening of a new primary and secondary schools, after a part of a century of campaigning, has brought some comfort from the sadnes. The principal, Ivalo Motzfeldt, tells me how even moving along the shiny passageways and using the new workbenches has increased most children motivation. But she knows that those who want to go to university will go to Denmark, while the others will leave for Nuuk or bigger cities: Narsaq has nothing to offer them.

In the 11 -year-olds science class, the children have been specified the task of researching uranium. Their sentiments about the mine are fractioned, and Motzfeldt supposes they are echoing their parents positions. The jobless tend to believe that, if the mine opens, this is gonna be places for everybody. Money is the driving cause and it acquires them blind, she says. She is outspokenly resisted: yes, the city involves coin, but the territory should not be relinquished. When the last fish is caught and the rivers are polluted, you cant devour money.

From his potent statu in Nuuk, Qujaukitsoq would most likely view such talk as homespun philosophising. He is confident that Greenland will follow best international tradition. There will be a limited number of highly regulated programmes; “the two countries ” will not become another Congo. It is a democratic civilization that the mining business will have to operate in. I interpret no danger of being overrun we have the resources to prevent dishonesty or misconduct.

In the past two polls, the person or persons have decided, by voting for parties that support the uranium excavation. Now, Qujaukitsoq says, it is a decision for the governmental forces. Are we indecisive? No. We have no reservations about creating jobs. For him it is the only way of saving Narsaq from stagnation. Whatever likenes all countries in the world cherishes, one thing is clear: Greenland will make its own behavior in the age of climate change.

Maurice Walsh hurtled as one of the purposes of the Arctic Times Project, an international team exploring the transformation of the Arctic.

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