Greenland Minerals is beginning arbitration proceedings against the governments of Greenland and Denmark
Greenland Minerals is beginning arbitration proceedings against the governments of Greenland and Denmark over its stalled Kvanefjeld rare earth-uranium project, Kallanish reports.
Arbitration has been officially requested by subsidiary Greenland Minerals A/S, after discussions with the Greenland government failed to provide a remedy, the Australia-based company says. Last month, the government rejected the company’s exploitation license. The company is seeking a hearing before three arbitrators in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“We tried to find a constructive solution through dialogue with the government of Greenland but they made it clear that they would not move from their position that Act No. 20 applies to us and our exploitation license will not be granted,” says managing director Daniel Mamadou.
The company took the step in order to protect its investment in the project and to obtain the exploitation license that is needed to proceed. The company was earlier issued an exploration license and that should entitle it to an exploitation license, the company says. It is maintaining its application for an exploitation license and is seeking an independent legal opinion as to whether the 2021 uranium mining ban applies to its project.
If the law does apply to the project, the company will seek compensation for expropriation from the Greenland government, the company says. It says it has invested AUD 130 million ($97.14m) in the project in 10 years.
The government of Greenland has banned the mining of uranium which it defines as uranium content of 100 parts per million or greater in the total resource. That rule went into effect 2 December, 2021.
The Kvanefjeld project in southwest Greenland features ore reserve that contain 108m tonnes of 1.43% rare earth oxide, 0.26% zinc and 0.036% uranium oxide. The uranium oxide content is 266 ppm and would produce about 5% of project revenues, Kallanish reports.
EBRD has announced its support for nuclear remediation works in Min-Kush in the Kyrgyz Republic
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has announced its support for nuclear remediation works in Min-Kush in the Kyrgyz Republic. Min Kush is one of three sites in the Kyrgyz Republic with a legacy of uranium production in the Soviet era which has contaminated land and water in the region.
There is an urgency to the clean-up operations, as local streams feed into the Syr Darya River, which runs through the Ferghana Valley, and agricultural heartland. Similarly, there is the risk of contaminated mine water coming into contact with and polluting groundwater. Political tensions have existed between countries in Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which have included water disputes between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as well as problems related to mining waste in the Ferghana Valley between Kyrgyz Republic and downstream Uzbekistan.
These issues featured at a high-level meeting between the countries in Astana in 2018. The clean-up efforts in Kyrgyzstan are well underway and the aim is to complete them in the third quarter of 2021. The efforts are being funded by the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia, which pools donor funds from the European Union, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland and the United States to help the Kyrgyz republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to remediate their most urgent uranium legacies.
The fund was established in 2015 by the European Commission and became operational in 2016. In May 2021, a contract was signed for remediation works in Shekaftar in the Kyrgyz Republic. The mining complex in question includes three closed mines and eight mining waste disposal areas containing approximately 700,000 m³ of waste. A number of waste dumps are located in the vicinity of a village and a school. A joint mission of the European Commission and The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to the Kyrgyz Republic took place in 2017, and it was established that urgent measures were required in three locations: Mailuu-Suu, Min-Kush and Shekaftar.
Kvanefjeld was granted preliminary approval last year
Greenland’s new government is preparing legislation that will ban uranium mining and cease development of the Kvanefjeld mine, one of the biggest rare earth deposits in the world, the country’s mineral resources minister says.
Kvanefjeld, owned by Australian mining firm Greenland Minerals and located near the southern town of Narsaq, contains a large deposit of rare earth metals but also radioactive uranium which locals fear could harm the island’s fragile environment if extracted.
“What we know is that the background radiation in and around Narsaq is quite high, which means that the project will collide with the upcoming zero tolerance policy on uranium mining,” minister for mineral resources Naaja Nathanielsen told Reuters in an interview in the capital Nuuk.
Mining companies have been pushing for rights to exploit rare earth deposits in Greenland, which the US Geological Survey says has the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits of the metals used in everything from electric vehicle batteries to missiles.
A public hearing on the project ended this week.
Greenland Minerals, in which Chinese partner Shenghe Resources has about a 10 per cent stake, participated in community meetings in February, but did not attend meetings in August and September citing the political nature of the meetings.
Chief executive John Mair, whose company has spent more than $US100 million ($A137 million) preparing the project, told Reuters on Friday he believes his company still holds the “valid right to pursue an exploitation licence for the project in compliance with Greenland laws”.
Locals worry that a potential lawsuit against Greenland will hurt its ability to attract investments in a nascent mining sector which they think is key to growing their economy.
Mair said it was too early to look at legal action “but as a public company, we must protect shareholder interests in the event a practical solution is not found”.
Nathanielsen said the government in 2013 put a clause in its contract with the company that states it “has no claim to an exploration licence and that a refusal can be given for political reasons”.
“We cannot issue guarantees against a lawsuit but we believe that we stand quite well in a potential court case”, she said.
The new bill, which will also include the option of banning the exploration of other radioactive minerals such as thorium, will be passed in the northern hemisphere autumn with backing of the Naleraq party, a coalition partner, Nathanielsen said.
Greenland’s uranium mining issue
Only July 2, the elected government began a month-long public consultation period for a proposed bill that, in addition to mining uranium, would prohibit the feasibility studies and exploration activities that must be completed before a mining project can be considered for a license to begin operation. Greenland has taken the first step towards outlawing uranium mining after lawmakers there proposed a stricter version of a ban that the country’s national assembly overturned in 2013.
According to proposal, Naalakkersuisut, the elected government, is hoping that a reinstatement of what was known as the zero-tolerance policy, to achieve its goal of ensuring that “Greenland neither produces nor exports uranium.” Overturning the original ban allowed Greenland Minerals, an Australian firm, to proceed with its efforts to establish a rare-earths mine at Kuannersuit (also known as Kvanefjeld), in southern Greenland. But that mine, which is currently in the final stage of the approval process, would be located in an area that is high in uranium, and residents of nearby Narsaq fear that activity there would kick up radioactive dust that would settle on the town.
Reimposing the ban would help the government achieve one of its election pledges: preventing Kuannersuit from becoming a reality.
“There is widespread popular resistance to mining projects involving uranium,” the government in the proposal. “The people of Greenland have also expressed their support for mining — as long as it doesn’t involve uranium and the associated risks.”
Similar statements made by the government shortly after coming to power in April led Orano, a French firm specialising in uranium mining, to announce it would halt its Greenlandic exploration program.
Greenland Minerals has said it expects mining authorities to respect the current approval process.
In May, shortly after taking office, Naaja Nathanielsen, the mining minister, sought to allay concerns that the government’s opposition to uranium mining would be interpreted by the industry as scepticism towards the entire industry by pledging that it would abide by the mining strategy adopted by its predecessor, and that, when it came to the Kuannersuit approval process, it would ensure that Greenland Minerals got a fair review.
Nevertheless, she made it clear that Naalakkersuisut would be working to find legal ways to ensure that uranium mining never takes place.
“We welcome the many promising projects throughout the country that do not involve radioactive elements.”
Uranium is singled out by the bill, but it also leaves open the possibility of prohibiting “other radioactive substances.” One of these, thorium, is a source of worry for opponents of the Kuannersuit mine, which calls for large quantities of it be disposed of in artificial lakes on the site.
Mining in Greenland environmental frontline of global warming
In Greenland, there are currently around 70 large-scale exploration and exploitation licences. As a result, environmental organisations fear that opening up the floodgates to mining and oil and gas production in this way will damage the delicate ecosystems and exacerbate climate pressures in the autonomous territory.
As rapidly increasing temperatures in the Arctic cause the ice to recede in Greenland, there is an international scramble to exploit the resources under the thawing ground. Environmentalists are concerned about the severe repercussions of this emerging plunder, reports Diego Francesco Marin. In a declaration, 141 environmental organisations, including the EEB, urge the Greenlandic and Danish governments, as well as the European Union, to protect Greenland’s unique and fragile Arctic environment, which is threatened by mining, oil and natural gas extraction projects.
“There is a global pattern of opening up new mines in ecologically fragile areas populated by indigenous peoples, as documented in the Environmental Justice Atlas,” says Nick Meynen, a senior policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “We need to wake up to the inconvenient reality that we need to phase out both greenhouse gas emissions and mining. The Arctic is one of those fragile areas where an immediate mining moratorium is crucial.”
Emboldened by never-ending global consumption and the push for renewable technologies around the world, mining companies are bulldozing into areas of the planet that were previously inaccessible due to the enormous costs and technical difficulties of drilling through thick ice. The receding ice, however, is exposing the island’s minerals for large-scale plunder. As Greenland continues to face the difficult challenges that climate change is imposing on its majority Inuit population, the authorities there are tempted to view the royalties they can extract from mining projects as a solution to the island’s economic woes. One of these massive projects is the Kvanefjeld (Kuannersuit in Greenlandic) mining project which, if allowed to go ahead, would be one of the world’s largest open-pit uranium mines and source of REEs, a key component of electric vehicles, smartphones and renewable technologies, and the first mining project of its kind in the Arctic region. The proposed mine lies only a few kilometres from the Kujataa UNESCO world heritage site, where some of the world’s biggest mining projects are looking to stake their claim, threatening this delicate ecosystem. But Kvanefjeld is not the only concern, another large mining project, Kringlerne, contains some of the world’s largest deposits of REEs. Both projects are in the later stages of receiving exploitation licenses, with the Kvanefjled project currently undergoing a public hearing process.
Threats to sustainability
Two years ago, record temperatures melted 600 billion tonnes of ice, which were enough to raise global sea levels by 2.2 millimetres in just two months. With its climate heating up at twice the global average, Greenland is widely recognised as ground zero for climate change. Climbing temperatures, warming waters and melting sea ice are disrupting fjords and coastal ecosystems and posing serious challenges for a nation reliant on fisheries. The icy island’s marine areas contain some of the planet’s cleanest waters. They boost the reproductive capacity of marine biodiversity and the ecosystems in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, the fishing industry constitutes up to 90% of Greenland’s exports. This second-biggest employing sector would be harmed by the ecological damage caused by oil and gas extraction in open waters, a move that is currently being pushed by officials in Greenland.
The threat to sustainability is not exclusive to the seas. The Australian company Greenland Minerals Ltd’s (GML) flagship project, the Kvanefjeld mine mentioned above, is supposed to create jobs, but these would come at the cost of destroying possibly more existing traditional livelihoods. The southern portion of the island is considered Greenland’s breadbasket which, coincidentally, is also where most of the mineral resources are located and where Kvanefjeld would exploit the REEs. Yet for GML to get to the lucrative metals, the company would generate radioactive byproduct as a result of the presence of uranium. This waste would be stored as tailings. This would inevitably pollute Lake Taseq in the Kuannersuit mountain which overlooks Narsaq. Other risks include leakages from the tailings and toxic radioactive dust with the potential to be carried long distances by heavy arctic winds. The mine’s proximity to an occupied town and a world heritage site put at risk lives, livelihoods and irreplaceable heritage. Despite claims by the company’s assessment that dust from the Kvanefjeld operation would not cause radiation in the area, experts warn that Greenlanders should be sceptical about these claims.
Culture and tradition
In Greenland, rising temperatures have extended the growing season and expanded the production of existing crops. Though agriculture makes up a relatively small portion of Greenland’s economy, this sector of the economy has the potential to grow significantly as the climate warms up. The same can be said for animal husbandry. The southern portion of the island is home to all of Greenland’s sheep stock, where unique farming traditions of Norse Greenlandic and modern Inuit farming cultures are practised and where sheep roam as free-grazing flocks. This is because private land ownership is not practised here. All the land is controlled by local kommunes, or “municipalities”, allowing farmers to jointly agree to the terms of land usage, since Greenlanders neither own nor pay rent for the land they live on. The farms provide wool mainly for exports and meat for local consumption. The practice is especially important for Narsaq, the nearest town to the Kvanefjeld project. Rising temperatures are putting a severe strain on the island’s population of 57,000, where the Greenlandic Inuit populations (the Kalaallit, Inughuit and Tunumiit) make up around 90%. For the island, the rapid changes in temperature are causing economic insecurity and retreating ice exacerbates the threats for the Greenlandic Inuit’s traditional livelihoods, which are heavily rooted in fishing, seal and whale hunting. In addition, a history of colonisation and an expanding economic system is creating a deep cultural rift and increasing social pressures. The loss of culture and generational purpose caused by rising temperatures and a rapidly changing landscape are already causing severe mental health impacts.
The employment illusion
Even with the appeal of increased employment from the oil, gas and mining activities, the reality is that these highly technical jobs will require expertise that Greenland does not have. The vast majority of the people employed would come from other areas of the world and who may not understand the particular challenges Greenland’s residents face. Moreover, despite arguments from industry and politicians, mining projects tend to perform poorly in job creation, amounting to less than 1% of the labour force in most cases.
“We need a time-out for oil and gas extraction in Greenland and this also applies in particular to the mining industry,” says Erik Jensen from URANI NAAMIK / NO TO URANIUM Association in Nuuk.
Studies also show that the development of remote areas and the influx of workers to mining projects can often cause major socio-economic and cultural changes. The proliferation of oil, gas and mining projects in Greenland would bring increased development that could damage the already fragile social fabric. The effects of climate change combined with rapid modernisation can compromise traditional lifestyles, creating additional challenges for the island’s indigenous inhabitants.
“For years, environmental NGOs in Greenland and Denmark have criticised the Kvanefjeld project for not living up to Greenland’s environmental standards,” adds Francesca Carlsson, legal officer at the EEB. “The Aarhus Convention sets out clear processes and standards for environmental governance and public participation. It should be implemented and its principles should be guaranteed in every step of the process. These projects pose too high of a risk for the communities to not be fully involved.”
An independent Greenland
As part of the Danish Kingdom, Greenland is still under Danish influence, though with a degree of autonomy. The territory relies on an annual block grant of 3.9 billion Danish krone (around €500 million euros) from Copenhagen, which amounts to 20% of its GDP and more than half of the public budget. Greenlandic politicians are well aware of their socioeconomic hurdles. Some argue that climate change is an opportunity for a new future and view providing raw materials, oil and gas for the growing Western and Chinese economies as a means to reach economic independence. They argue that the income obtained from the resources would allow the Greenlandic government to detach itself from Denmark.
However, the cost of reaching independence through resource exploitation is high, both for Greenland and the world. Greenland would require 24 concurrent large-scale mining projects to zero out the financial support from Denmark. Paradoxically, opening up Greenland for ‘business’ would perpetuate the very same mining and industrial activities that are largely to blame for the environmental and and socioeconomic problems the island is currently facing. Greenland’s ice sheets are not melting because of the forces of nature, they are melting as a result of irresponsible human activity.
Niels Henrik Hooge from Friends of the Earth Denmark argues that: “More oil and minerals extraction is not a real prerequisite for financial autonomy. A mineral-based economy is not economically sustainable: when the mining industry starts to recede, Greenland will find itself in the same situation as before, only with fewer resources.”
As the EU updates its Arctic Policy as part of its work programme for 2021, environmental NGOs urge the Commission to truly carry out its environmental commitments and to declare the Arctic a natural sanctuary. The NGO statement also calls on the EU, Denmark and Greenland to implement a moratorium on large-scale mining and oil and gas extraction in the autonomous region and for the island to be compensated so that the immediate decrease in income would not negatively affect its population.
“The European Parliament just called on the European Commission to set binding targets to reduce resource consumption and bring it within planetary boundaries,” says Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, policy officer for the circular economy at the EEB. “We urgently need a framework for reducing our exploitation of increasingly scarce natural resources.”
It remains to be seen if policymakers in Brussels, Copenhagen and Nuuk will put words into action and push for increased protection of a vulnerable and yet pristine region of the world. After all, the challenges Greenland is facing are not just those of its people. As a climate window into the future, Greenland’s protection is a global challenge.
Kazatomprom had to quarantine two mines due to virus emergency
Due to a COVID-19 emergency, the world’s largest uranium producer Kazatomprom had to put two mines in quarantine. The company announced that several positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified at the company’s Kazakh-French joint venture KATCO, operating in the Turkestan region of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Kazatoprom said that despite the safety measures and protocols that are in place, several KATCO employees who had tested negative when arriving at the site at the end of December, began to show symptoms of COVID-19 while working at the facility and staying in the Moinkum camp. The operation’s senior management promptly moved to conduct PCR testing of all KATCO employees and contractors, which resulted in the identification of additional positive cases.
Based on recommendations of local medical authorities, and in light of positive cases among site personnel that had previously tested negative, testing of all employees and contractors at Tortkuduk camp was carried. Final test results from both camps are still pending. Affected personnel have been isolated. According to the protocol of Chief state sanitary doctor of Suzak area, Turkestan region, both facilities have been placed under quarantine to await final results prior to a shift change. KATCO does not expect the site quarantine to have an impact on drilling or planned 2021 production.
Kazatomprom is the world’s largest producer of uranium, with the company’s attributable production representing approximately 24% of global primary uranium production in 2019. The group benefits from the largest reserve base in the industry and operates, through its subsidiaries, JVs and Associates, 26 deposits grouped into 14 mining assets. All of the company’s mining operations are located in Kazakhstan and mined using ISR technology.
Uranium production cut to be extended in Kazakhstan
In early April, Kazakhstan’s national operator for the import and export of uranium, Kazatomprom announced that its facilities across Kazakhstan would be working at reduced capacity within three months which was expected to cause production cuts by about 17.5 percent in 2020. The statement was made in the wake of a state of emergency declared in Kazakhstan due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Before the lockdown, the company was expecting the production output to reach about 22,800 tons in 2020. Kazatomprom has announced the company’s intent to extend production cut by 20 percent through 2022 in an effort to balance the global uranium market.
“We are simply not seeing the market signals and fundamental support needed to ramp up mine development in 2021 and take our low-cost, tier one production centers back to full capacity in 2022.”
The new regulations are expected to remove up to 5,500 tons of uranium from the anticipated global primary supply in 2022, with uranium production in Kazakhstan staying similar to the level expected in 2021 and ranging between 22,000 and 22,500 tons, according to the statement.
The country of almost 19 million people, Kazakhstan has reported more than 103,000 cases of infections with the fatality rate standing at 1,415 as of August 20. Harsh restrictions introduced by the country’s government to contain the spread of the deadly virus halted most economic activities, causing many people to lose their jobs. A range of companies has announced a temporary halt on production in their local manufacturing facilities until further notice. Officials in Kazatomprom are convinced that uranium prices and long-term contracting activity will remain unsustainably low due to the market uncertainty attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has not taken any decision regarding mine development activity beyond 2022 as it continues to monitor market conditions.
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of uranium, with 60 years of experience in nuclear fuel supply. The Central Asian country possesses about 12 percent of the world’s recoverable uranium. There are about 50 known deposits and 22 uranium mines in Kazakhstan operated by state-owned Kazatomprom and through joint ventures. The country is also home to a low-enriched uranium (LEU) bank, the world’s largest reserve of its kind that can store up to 90 metric tons of uranium suitable for making fuel to feed a light-water nuclear reactor.
Kazatomprom’s attributable production represented approximately 24 percent of global primary uranium production as of 2019. All of the company’s mining operations are located in Kazakhstan.
Earlier this year, the company announced the deal with a Buenos Aires-based mining corporation Dioxitek, according to which Kazakhstan will cover the South American country’s short supply for its nuclear reactors.
Berkeley Energia soon to construct uranium mine in Spain
The only pending approval required to commence full construction of the uranium mine in Spain is the authorisation for construction for the uranium concentrate plant as a radioactive facility (NSC II), said Australia-listed Berkeley Energia. This means that Berkeley is one permit away from starting full construction of the four-million-pound-a-year Salamanca uranium mine.
The company announced that the Municipality of Retortillo had granted its urbanism licence (UL), which is the land use permit needed for construction works. In late March, the company submitted updated official documentation in relation to the NSC II and has since held a number of meetings with the Nuclear Safety Council (NSC) technical team.
Berkeley said it was preparing written responses to some queries the NSC had and that it would complete this task in the coming weeks. Following submission of the written responses, the next step in the process would be for the NSC technical team to finalise its report and submit it to the NSC board for ratification. Last month, the NSC issued a favourable report for the extension of the validity of the initial authorisation for the uranium concentrate plant as a radioactive facility (NSC I). NSC I was granted in September 2015, with a five-year validity period.
The Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge has to approve the authorisation and set its duration period.
The definitive feasibility study has reported that over an initial ten-year period the project is capable of producing an average of 4.4-million pounds a year of uranium, at a cash cost of $13.30/lb and a total cash cost of $15.06/lb during steady state.
Berkeley stated that the mine would guarantee Spain and the European Union an internal supplier, which would produce the equivalent of 10% of Europe’s total consumption.
Arbitration in favour of Denison Mines and its uranium assets in Mongolia
Denison Mines, Canada based company, won arbitration ruling over Mongolian uranium assets sale after the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) has rendered a final award in favor of this company for the arbitration proceedings between the company and Uranium Industry (UI), relating to the 2015 sale of Denison’s assets in Mongolia.
The primary assets were the exploration licences for the Hairhan, Haraat, Gurvan Saihan and Ulzit projects.
The arbitration panel declared that UI violated its obligations to Denison under the related agreements, and ordered UI to pay the company $10-million, plus interest at a rate of 5% a year from November 16, 2016, as well as certain legal and arbitration costs.
The arbitration panel also dismissed all other claims and counterclaims.
In November 2015, Denison completed the sale of its mining assets and operations located in Mongolia to UI pursuant to an amended and restated share purchase.
In September 2016, the Mineral Resources Authority of Mongolia formally issued mining licence certificates for all four projects, triggering Denison’s right to receive additional post-closing contingent consideration of $10-million.
Denison has extended the payment due date of the mining licence receivable from November 16, 2016 to July 16, 2017, and agreed to a 5% a year interest rate.
The uranium exploration company turned to arbitration after the required payments were not made.
Terraframe company mines uranium in Sotkamo, Finland
The Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment announced that the Finnish government granted a permit for state-owned Terraframe company to extract and refine uranium from the ore obtained from its mine in Sotkamo, east Finland.
The Finnish government confirmed that the project meets the requirements of the legislation concerning nuclear and radiation safety, and the permit is valid for the whole operational time of the mine.
The ministry estimated the amount of semi-finished uranium products from the mine to be at the most 250 tons per year. They will be refined into yellowcake for manufacturing fuel for nuclear power plants.
At the moment, the main products of the mine are nickel and zinc.
The government ensured that “uranium will be utilized responsibly and only for peaceful purposes.”
Finnish Ministry of the Environment expressed the view that the recovery of the uranium can remarkably reduce the concentration of uranium in the waters in the area. Local environmental officials noted that the environmental impact in the area is smaller when the uranium plant is in operation than if mining operations there continue without the extraction of uranium.
Under Finnish law, people or organizations whose interests could be affected may file complaints to administrative courts.
Joni Lukkaroinen, CEO of the Terraframe, told national broadcaster Yle that complaints could delay the start.
The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland (STUK) was quoted by Finnish media as saying on Thursday that Finland would likely to be the only uranium producer in the European Union.