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Environmental impact issues
This Q & A is a practical tool to help people find information about rare earth elements and uranium in regards to the mining project on Kvanefjeld.
3) Environmental impact issues
Q: How will you ensure that the Greenlandic environment will not be negatively affected?
A: Before establishing the mine, Greenland Minerals & Energy will perform at least a 2 year-long, and in some cases longer, assessment of the environmental impact. Only after demonstrating to the satisfaction of the Greenlandic and Danish authorities that the mining activities could be performed in environmentally responsible way would the mine be established. One should remember, that REE‘s are actually beneficial to our climate and environment, since REE is used in green technologies that help preserve the global climate over the longer term.
Q: How will you ensure that dust from the mine will not spread to the surrounding areas?
A: When blasting and quarrying the ore dust can spread to the immediate surrounding areas depending on the prevailing weather conditions. Greenland Minerals & Energy will implement appropriate management plans and controls to minimise this spread of dust, such as using appropriate mine design, rock blasting only when weather conditions are suitable, and using state of the art dust suppression techniques etc. It is highly unlikely that dust from the mining operation will impact upon the nearby town of Narsaq. Dust monitoring stations have been established to determine current background levels and these stations will continue to operate throughput the life of the mine to ensure residents of Narsaq are not exposed to dust from the mining areas.
Q: What will happen to the processing plant residues?
A: Before a decision on the storage of residues can be made we require a number of detailed studies. There are many factors to consider, for instance it is preferable that the residues should be stored in an impervious area, capped by water. The water will not only eliminate any dust generated from the residues during periods of high winds but also suppress any possible release of radon gas.
Earlier studies by the Danish Government considered Lake Taseq as a potential site. Lake Taseq is located in a 3 km wide valley which is approximately 7 km northeast of the town of Narsaq and approximately 3 km southeast of the proposed process plant site. The lake level is 518 m above sea level, with a surface area of approximately 1.3 km2 and the water volume is estimated to be 16.5 Mm3. The lake drains from the southwest into the Taseq River, which flows into the Narsaq River and, hence, to the ocean approximately 6 km distant. The water from Taseq cannot get into the local Narsaq drinking water supply.
There are a number of possible alternative locations and these will be considered, in consultation, with the local community.
Q: With regards to the residue storage facilities, how will these be managed to avoid dust, radon or leakage?
A: The concentrator residue storage facility will be constantly covered with water to stop the emanation of radon, and at the completion of the mining project, the whole residue facility will be covered by crushed rock to ensure encapsulation of its contents. The residue facility at Taseq will be designed so as not to drain or leak, as the rock that contains the lake is impermeable and any fractures in this rock will be small, and it will quickly be filled by the initial crushed rock which is deposited into tailings at the start of the mine, effectively blocking any of these cracks that may exist.
Q: What other hazards are there? What about the fluoride?
A: There are a number of hazards associated with a typical mining operation and the Kvanefjeld Project will be no different in this respect. In this case we define a hazard as “something causing unavoidable danger, peril, risk, or difficulty”. A mining company will typically prepare a “Project Management Plan” (PMP) during the Assessment and Approval phase of the project. The PMP forms the basis for the initial identification of potential major risks associated with the proposed operations and is a starting point for developing on-going strategies to manage those risks. Most hazards are identified and, where possible, eliminated during the environmental, social and engineering design studies, prior to construction and operation of the mine.
One potential pollutant of concern is fluoride, which comes from the dissolution of sodium fluoride (NaF). The mineral form of NaF, villiamite, is moderately rare, and is generally known from plutonic nepheline syenite rocks, such as those found at Kvanefjeld.
Since villiamite is highly water soluble it is generally absent from the upper layers of the ore body. However, during the mining operation fresh surfaces will become exposed to water and may percolate through cracks and fissures in the mountain. It is intended to reclaim the process water during the operative phase and pass it through a treatment plant, where the fluoride will be recovered as a saleable fluorspar product.
The Narsaq River currently has higher than normal fluoride levels, particularly during periods of low water flow. Despite this there is a small population of Arctic Char living in the river.
Q: How will you safeguard the environment once the mine operations are closed?
A: When a mine is closed it must be secured in a way such that the local environment is left free from contamination. As a consequence, so-called tailing depots must be established. These depots are set up as long term facilities and when properly established it is well documented that they do not contribute to long term environmental damage. Mine closure plans must be established and approved by the authorities prior to commencing exploitation