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Greenland Aims to Compete with China on Rare Earth Mining


Greenland, the world’s biggest island and an autonomous territory of Denmark, overturned a multi-decade ban on uranium mining in a close parliamentary vote a week ago. Chinese companies have joined Australian, British, Scottish, and other firms in an effort to elbow their way into this developing resource bonanza. The end of the ban, which had blocked access to other minerals besides uranium, opens up all kinds of possibilities for mining companies, notably in the field of rare earths, which are vital in the production of many advanced electronics.

China controls basically the entire global production of these minerals, used in the production of everything from cell phones to missile guidance systems. But Greenland might change that. The FT reports that the island could eventually supply a quarter of the global demand for rare earths.

China is a customer and a competitor for Greenland in this new field, but it doesn’t make for a good model. After decades of wildcat prospecting, much of it illegal and almost all of it environmentally destructive, vast areas of China are contaminated by radioactive materials. Powerful acids leak into rivers, farmland and rice paddies lie poisoned.

Because of these environmental risks, overturning the ban was controversial politically, both in Greenland and in Denmark. But it is difficult to understate the transformative effect rare earth mining could have on Greenland. “Having an economy that is based on one source [the annual handout from Denmark], and so fragile a one, it will never be the one that carries us to economic independence,” the Prime Minister told the FT. “We have a high unemployment rate and we want to create jobs for the next generation.”

“Are we ready for this?” she continued. “Are we ready for being a mining nation where we have thousands of people coming from outside to work? We have to be prepared so that we do not become a new Kuwait. Norway is a great example: it is a fishing nation but at the same [time] a very highly industrialised nation with oil.”

[A photo taken on August 20, 2012 shows the skyline of the inner Mongolian city of Baotou.  On the edge of the Chinese city of Baotou, a 10-square-kilometre lake is blackened by pollution from factories processing rare earths, elements essential for the production of mobile phones and computers. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • Corlyss

    Well, at least it’s not some place EPA controls.

  • ljgude

    Good news indeed. I’ve been quietly aghast at our Evil Capitalist Overlords for being so lazy that they let the Chinese tie up virtually all the rare earths. The population of Greenland is tiny – 56,000 – and 89% are Inuit or part Inuit. To say the least, they are in for an overwhelming experience if a mining boom comes to Greenland.

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