Governing Uranium Mining

Governing Uranium Mining is the subject of Florian Abraham’s PhD research at the University of Exeter, ‘Uranium Mining in Greenland’, supervised by Prof. Susan Molyneux-Hodgson (Primary) and Prof. Frances Wall (Secondary) at the Camborne School of Mines.

Nuclear energy production has received renewed interest as an option to decarbonise energy systems. This development requires the world supply of uranium to increase at a time when production is slowing. The expected increase in demand will require the location of new uranium deposits, hence the growing interest from mining companies in Greenland.

Greenland is at a turning point in its industrial history. In 2013, a 25-year ban on uranium mining was overturned. Reasons given were a willingness to develop economically and to increase independence from Denmark. A national debate emerged over the impacts of the decision on the environment and indigenous Inuit communities.

The long ban means that Greenland does not have national mining companies and has little regulation. Consequently, foreign companies are taking the work and Chinese and Australian companies have submitted proposals. Australian company GMEL plans to develop one of the largest uranium mines in the world in Knavefjeld, and has already completed major ‘impact assessments’.

Australia’s mining heritage makes their involvement interesting as the country claims substantial regulatory apparatus to monitor practices and potential impacts. However, mining within Australia remains problematic. Case studies show that industry often fails to engage local communities. Few jobs or skills are available to locals, leading to migration and loss of culture and land. Greenland holds pristine environments and unique Inuit communities: the arrival of an Australian company thus raises important questions.

The uranium industry has received little attention in sociological literature. Hecht studied uranium mining in Africa and queried the relations between mined countries and nuclear nations. Novel research on the co-production of technology and society is thus essential. I propose to analyse how the nuclear socio-technical system is configured and explore how innovations may challenge relations and perhaps drive change. The theoretical framework I develop will allow me to move between the empirical case and wider concerns on extraction, industrialisation and ‘nuclearity’.

One strand of research will analyse the environmental and social impact assessments produced by GMEL and submitted to the Greenlandic government in 2015. I will question what aspects of ‘environmental’ and ‘social’ concerns were addressed and how. Particular attention will be paid to the treatment of issues such as aesthetics, pollution and biodiversity.

A second strand of research will explore how actors approach extraction in the particular social context. I will interview stakeholders from government, industry, NGOs, and community.