NBA History of Science Seminar

Henry Nielsen, "Too Hot to Handle: The Controversial Hunt for Uranium in Greenland in the Early Cold War."

Believing that uranium was a scarce resource, from 1944 until the mid-1950s the United States and England sought to gain a monopoly of uranium (and thorium) supplies through the Combined Development Trust (CDT).

Henry Nielsen, Institute of Physics and Astronomy, Center for Science Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark

As neither Denmark proper nor its colony Greenland was known to possess high-grade uranium ores, the Danish government was not approached by the CDT. In the first decade after WW2 the Danish government furthermore did not support expeditions to Greenland with uranium explorations as the main activity.

This situation changed only after a Danish Atomic Energy Commission (AEK), chaired by Niels Bohr, was set up in early 1955. One of AEK’s first initiatives was to support large-scale uranium expeditions to a promising area, the Ilimaussaq region in South-West Greenland.

In the late 1960s, after more than a decade of uranium explorations and extraction experiments, the goal of making Denmark self-sufficient with regard to energy was still in sight but had been pushed into a distant future. For many reasons the hunt for uranium in Greenland after WW2 had been unsuccessful. Among these were low grade uranium ores, hard-to-handle uranium containing minerals, but also reasons such as Danish sovereignty concerns, techno-scientific nationalism, and devastating institutional clashes of interests. In my lecture I shall explore these problems.

Finally, I shall discuss briefly why the uranium deposits in Ilimaussaq have attracted worldwide interest since the turn of the millenium.