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Greenland removes ban on uranium mining

Jan m. Olsen, Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- Greenland's parliament has voted in favor of removing a 25-year-old ban on uranium mining, paving the way for an industrial boom that the Arctic island hopes will help it gain independence from former colonial master Denmark.

Greenland, a semi-autonomous part of Denmark, wants to step up its mining of rare earths, valuable elements used in the production of smartphones weapons systems and other modern technologies. But uranium is often found mixed into rare earths, so the ban was blocking key mining activity in southern Greenland.

An Australian company has estimated it could extract up to 40,000 tons of rare earth metals per year.

In a 15-14 vote with two absentees, the parliament backed late Thursday the center-left governing coalition's desire to remove the ban.

Many Greenlanders want to use the island's mineral resources as a way to reduce dependency on a subsidy from Denmark which now accounts for about two-thirds of the island's economy. Denmark is open to allowing Greenland greater independence, but there is currently no way the island can support its current costs without the subsidy.

Denmark's foreign trade minister, Nick Haekkerup, sought to ease concerns that Greenland might sell the uranium it finds in the rare earths mining. He said Friday that the country cannot decide that alone because Denmark still handles its security and foreign policy.

Jens-Erik Kirkegaard, Greenland's minister for natural resources, said after Thursday's vote that several laws now need to be changed before exports of rare earths can start "in a couple of years or more." The government wants to introduce royalties on the mining industry and revise a law that would allow an influx of foreign labor.

Greenland's government on Thursday also gave a Britain-based company a license to extract iron. The company is now seeking investments to develop an iron mine northeast of Nuuk, the capital.