Aug 01 2008
This post is also available in: Icelandic
Saving Iceland Blockades Rio Tinto-Alcan’s Smelter in Iceland
HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND – Activists from Saving Iceland have today begun stopping traffic to and from Rio Tinto-Alcan’s aluminium smelter in Straumsvík, Hafnarfjordur, by chaining themselves to the gates of the plant. Saving Iceland is protesting against Rio Tinto-Alcan’s plans to increase their aluminium production capacity on the island, the consequences of which would would be that significant parts of Iceland’s unique environment would have to be destroyed for energy generation. The activists are also protesting against the worlds largest aluminium producer’s involvement with the arms industry.
Rio Tinto-Alcan wants to increase its production in Straumsvík by 40 thousand tons per year without enlarging the smelter building itself. At the same time the company is planning to build a second aluminium smelter in the towns of Keilisnes or Þorlákshöfn (1).
*Update* Traffic to the smelter was stopped for several hours so trucks were told to leave and come back next week. Nobody was arrested.
Reykjavík Energy (Orkuveita Reykjavíkur) pulled out from an energy deal with Rio Tinto-Alcan because of strong public opposition to their expansion, resulting in the geothermally active Bitra mountain being saved.(2)
At the same time, Landsvirkjun (the national energy company) is planning to go ahead with the construction of three dams in the Thjórsá river, south Iceland, as well as one in the adjoining Tungnaá river. They have already signed an energy expansion contract with Rio Tinto-Alcan (4). In December 2006, the two companies signed a contract which stated that Rio Tinto-Alcan would share the cost of the three dams in Thjórsá (5).
Corruption in Hafnarfjörður
In the end of March 2007, a public referendum took place in Hafnarfjördur, where a majority in the city voted against the enlargement of their Rio Tinto-Alcan’s smelter. Lúdvík Geirsson, mayor of Hafnarfjördur, said that the referendum was a “victory for democracy” and added that he would follow the conclusion (6). Rio Tinto-Alcan announced that they were then considering to move their production facility to to Thorlákshöfn.
Only three months later, Lúdvík sat at a meeting with Rannveig Rist, director of Alcan in Iceland, and Michael Jacques, director of Alcan Primary Metal Group, where they discussed the future of Alcan in Iceland. One idea discussed was to increase the Straumsvik smelter’s capacity into the sea, on top of a landfill mound, rather than onto a lava rock area cleared by Alcan in anticipation of a positive result from the referendum (7). Many see this as a betrayal of the referendum spirit, which was not in regards to the specificities of Alcan’s expansion but their expansion altogether.
“Is this really what Geirsson calls the ‘victory of democracy’? Broken promises?” says Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, from Saving Iceland. “His behaviour show clearly how much power the aluminium corporations have here in Iceland. The authorities seem to not dare to speak or act against these corporations will.”
Alcan’s links with the arms industry
August 30th, 2006, Alcan signed a long-term contract for their involvement with the production of the F-35 Jointer Strike Fighter, in collaboration with the arms producers Lockheed Martin, Nothrop-Grumman and BAE Systems (8).
“This is not a respectable company” says Sofie Larsen from Saving Iceland. “Until now, Alcoa has got the most attention here in Iceland when it comes to the links between aluminium production and the arms industry. Yet, Alcan is no better at all, since the company is contracted to several different weapon producers.”
Alcan produces aluminum for EADS (European Aerospace and Defense and Space) (9), whose line of military helicopters and fighter jets includes the Eurofighter Tycoon, Mirage F1 and EF18 Hornet. EADS is also a lead in the production of missiles (10).
“On it’s website, EADS claims that the company’s product is only sold to countries who ´guarantee a responsible approach to high-tech military air systems´” says Sofie, ”but on the same site, one can find videos which glorify Nazi Germany’s airforce (11). What kind of ethics is that?”
The damming of Thjórsá river
Despite strong local resistance from farmers unwilling to give up their land for Rio Tinto-Alcan’s expansion, Landsvirkjun have been working full time to push through the four dam project. Landsvirkjun has again and again gone up to the river, trying to get farmers to agree with the construction. When they received a letter signed by nine of the ten farmers affected by the Urridafoss waterfall Thjórsá dam, stating that they refused to participate in any further discussions with the energy agency, Landsvirkjun threatened to forcefully expropriate their land.
Recently the district council of Flóahreppur made an agreement with Landsvirkjun to include the Urridafoss dam into their district plan. Jón Árni Vignisson, a farmer who lives by Thjórsá, said that they had done so after Landsvirkjun had promised to pump funds into a variety of their minor infrastructure projects: road, water supply and mobile phone reception improvements (12). Essentially, the local government had been bribed.
The enlargement of Rio Tinto-Alcan’s capacities in Iceland and the damming of the Thjórsá river are highly corrupt projects which Saving Iceland demands the immediate halting of.
(1) Mbl.is, Álframleiðsla hjá Alcan aukin um 22 prósent, http://www.mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/200…
(2) Mbl.is, Fyrirhugaðar framkvæmdir og orkusala haldast í hendur, http://www.mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/200…
(3) Mbl.is, 200 mw orkusala úr sögunni, http://www.mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/200…
(4) Vísir.is, Alcan keppir áfram um orku Þjórsár, http://visir.is/article/20070909/FRETTIR…
(5) Heimasíða Rio Tinto-Alcan á Íslandi, http://www.riotintoalcan.is/?PageID=12&a…
(6 )Mbl.is, Sigur fyrir lýðræðið, http://www.mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/200…
(7) Mbl.is, Álver á landfyllingu, http://mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2007/06…
(8) Vefsíða Alcan, http://www.alcan.com/web/publishing.nsf/…(JSF
(9) Vefsíða ABC Money, http://www.abcmoney.co.uk/news/132007869…
(10) Vefsíða EADS, http://www.eads.com/1024/en/businet/defe…
(11) Myndband sem segir sögu EADS, http://www.eads.com/xml/content/OF000000…
(12) Sunnlenska Fréttablaðið, 30. tölublað, Eigum marga aðra valkosti, bls. 8-9, 24. Júlí 2008