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Mar 11 2012
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Plans to Dam Lower Þjórsá River Put on Hold

Urriðafoss waterfall. Photo by Christopher Lund. Three planned dams in lower Þjórsá river will not be included in a parliamentary resolution for Iceland’s Energy Master Plan, according to sources from within both governing political parties. While some might see this as a reason for celebration, one should think twice before opening up the champaign bottles as these news do not imply that this highly controversial dam project has permanently been thrown off the drawing tables. The project will simply be moved from the exploitation category to the pending category and might eventually end up in the hands of  the political parties most of all responsible for Iceland’s heavy-industrialization.

Since the publication of the long-awaited Energy Master Plan’s second phase in July last year, a good part of the discussion regarding the plan has been centred around the Þjórsá river, especially as the two concerned ministers — Minister of Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir and Minister of Industry Katrín Júlíusdóttir — presented their proposition for a parliamentary resolution for the Master Plan, wherein the three Þjórsá dams were included. Following a three months long public commentary process — including 225 commentaries by individuals, organizations and companies, of which more than 70 had specifically to do with Þjórsá — the above-mentioned ministers have been working on amending their proposal in order for it to go through parliamentary discussion before the end of parliament sessions this spring.

The Energy Master Plan, which is supposed to lay the foundation for a long-term settlement upon the future exploitation and protection of Iceland natural resources, is split into three categories, of which two are quite clear, titled “exploitation” and “protection”, but the third one, titled “in waiting”, has pretty much been the bone of contention. On the one hand those in favour of extreme energy extraction believe that too many exploitable areas are being kept in waiting, while on the other hand environmentalists think that many of the areas categorized as in waiting should rather be moved straight into the protection category. Read More

Mar 11 2012
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Is Aluminium Really a Silent Killer?

Prof Chris Exley. Photo: Guzelian.
On the twenty-fourth anniversary of a disaster which saw a British water-reserve accidentally poisoned with aluminium—eventually killing at least one person—The Telegraph considers how aluminium affects our day-to-day health, now that the metal is used in most household and medical products we consume.

With aluminium known to be such a poisonous metal, a serious investigation into the effects of aluminium production on the health of smelter workers and nearby communities is surely badly needed.

Read More

Dec 17 2011

The Cross-Border Undercover Operation Needs an International Independent Investigation

Andrej Hunko - Die Linke MP “I’m glad that the women, who were used physically and emotionally by British undercover police, have decided to initiate a legal action against police. Thereby, the operations of these police officers lands once again on the German parliamentary agenda,” commented the German MP Andrej Hunko, regarding reports in the Guardian daily newspaper.

Eight women have filed legal action against the Metropolitan Police. Five officers have been named that have infiltrated leftist movements since the 1980′s, and used deceit to create sexual relationships with these women. Among them is the former undercover officer Mark Kennedy, who worked for the German police in the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern und Baden-Wuerttemberg. The open statement of these women contradicts the claims of Kennedy, that he only had sexual relationships with two women.

Andrej Hunko further stated:

“The courageous step of these eight women must also have consequences in Germany.

According to media reports, Kennedy was operating in 22 countries. It follows then, that Kennedy likely also used such illegal tactics in these countries. In my opinion, the Kennedy operations went against the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8, which protects the rights for private and family life, including the right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state. Read More

Dec 10 2011

For the Greater Glory of… Justice?

Icelandic Police Make Sure Justice is Done By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson.
Originally published in the Reykjavík Grapevine.

Criminal court cases, waged by The State against political dissidents for acts of protest and civil disobedience, can be understood in two ways. Firstly, the juridical system can be seen as a wholly legitimate platform for solving social conflicts. Such a process then results with a verdict delivered by Lady Justice’s independent agents—a ruling located somewhere on the scale between full punishment and absolute acquittal. According to this view, it is at this point only that a punishment possibly enters the picture. And only if deserved.

Secondly—and herein lies a fundamental difference—the original decision to press charges can be seen as a punishment in itself, regardless of the final verdict. With these two points of understanding in mind, two recent verdicts, which have not received much attention, are worth observing.

You Shall Not Run

Number one is the case against Haukur Hilmarsson and Jason Slade who in June 2008, while attempting to stop an airplane from departing, and thereby deporting Kenyan asylum seeker Paul Ramses to Italy, ran onto a closed-off area at the Leifur Eiríksson International Airport in Keflavík. To shorten a long and complicated story (covered in-length here) their political sprint snowballed into protests of all kinds, eventually bringing the asylum seeker back to Iceland, where he and his family were granted an asylum. Read More

Dec 09 2011
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Time Has Told: The Kárahnjúkar Dams Disastrous Economical and Environmental Impacts

Before... The profitability of Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s national energy company, is way too low. And worst off is the Kárahnjúkar hydro power plant, Europe’s largest dam, the company’s biggest and most expensive construction. Landsvirkjun’s director Hörður Arnarson revealed this during the company’s recent autumn meeting, and blamed the low price of energy sold to large-scale energy consumers, such as Alcoa’s aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður, as one of the biggest factors reducing profit.

These news echo the many warnings made by the opponents of the cluster of five dams at Kárahnjúkar and nearby Eyjabakkar, who repeatedly stated that the project’s alleged profitability was nothing but an illusion, but were systematically silenced by Iceland’s authorities.

Now, as these facts finally become established in the media—this time straight from the horse’s mouth—similarly bad news has arrived regarding another big Icelandic energy company. Reykjavík Energy has failed to make a profit from their 2007 and 2008 investments, effectively making them lose money. Hálslón -- Kárahnjúkar Dams' muddy reservoir At the same time, new research shows that the environmental impacts of the Kárahnjúkar dams are exactly as vast and serious as environmentalists and scientists feared.

And yet, more dams, geothermal power-plants and aluminium smelters are on the drawing table—presented as the only viable way out of the current economic crisis. Read More

Dec 02 2011
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Wrong Climate for Damming Rivers

Google Earth Tour Reveals How a Global Dam Boom Could Worsen the Climate Crisis

International Rivers and Friends of the Earth International have teamed up to create a state-of-the-art Google Earth 3-D tour and video narrated by Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey, winner of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award. The production was launched on the first day of the COP 17 climate meeting in Durban. The video and tour allow viewers to explore why dams are not the right answer to climate change, by learning about topics such as reservoir emissions, dam safety, and adaptation while visiting real case studies in Africa, the Himalayas and the Amazon.

Nov 16 2011

Aluminium Smelter in Helguvík: Mere Myth of the Past?

Helguvík Smelter: Construction of a Myth Plans to operate a 250-360 thousand ton aluminium smelter in Helguvík, which has in fact been under construction since 2008, seem ever more likely to be nothing but an inoperable myth of the past, according to environmentalists as well as high ranking officials within the energy sector. Aluminium producer Norðurál (alias Century Aluminum, which already operates one smelter in Iceland), has not only been unable to guarantee the necessary minimum 435 MW of energy but is also stuck in an arbitration conflict with its planned energy supplier HS Orka (owned by Alterra Power, former Magma Energy), concerning energy price. Additionally, environmentalists’ warnings – that the geothermal energy planned to run the smelter can simply not be found – have gained strength and lead to the inevitable question if the damming of river Þjórsá has been planned for Helguvík.

During a recent meeting of chairmen from all the member unions of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), Hörður Arnarson, the director of the national energy company, Landsvirkjun, said that due to the current situation on international markets it would be enormously difficult for Norðurál to finance the 250 billion ISK smelter project. According to Vilhjálmur Birgisson, who attended the meeting, chairman of the Labor Union of Akranes (near to Grundartangi, where Century’s currently operating smelter is located),  Hörður spoke of the Helguvík project’s likelihood as very negligible. Another representative at the meeting, Kristján Gunnarsson, chairman of the Labour and Fishermen Union of Keflavík, stated that when asked about the possibility of Landsvirkjun selling energy to Norðurál, Hörður answered saying that no energy is really available for the project.

While it certainly is true that Landsvirkjun has, especially in the nearest past, had problems with financing, due to the international financial crisis as well as the Icelandic economy’s instability, the latter point – that no energy is actually available for Helguvík – is of more importance here. Environmentalists have, from the beginning of the Helguvík project, stated that the plans to harness energy for the smelter in geothermal areas on the Reykjanes peninsula, are not sufficient, for two reasons. Firstly, as the alleged size of the energy extraction is not sustainable and is more than likely to drain these unique natural areas for good. Secondly, because even if fully exploited, the geothermal areas would not produce enough energy for the smelter. Another energy source will be essential in order for the smelter to operate and even though Reykjavík Energy (OR) has promised Century some energy from a planned enlargement of their power plant in Hellisheiði, the aluminium producer still faces a serious lack of electricity for Helguvík. Read More

Nov 14 2011
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It Ain’t Easy Being Green

Is Geothermal Energy Green? Seems Quite Gray to Me -- Photo by Alísa Kalyanova Words by Paul Fontaine. Photo by Alísa Kalyanova. Originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine.

One of Iceland’s proudest assets is its energy grid. Geothermal energy, by 2010 figures, accounts for just over 26% of the country’s electricity, as well as 86% of its heating and hot water. Iceland’s geothermal energy technology has been shared with countries around the world, and has attracted the interests of foreign investors.

However, as comparatively cleaner for the environment geothermal power is not without its problems. One of these is the main elephant in the room: geothermal energy is not a renewable energy source. Boreholes that tap into the massive steam vents below the surface do not last forever. When Ross Beaty, CEO of Magma Energy (now a part of Alterra Power Corp.) made the specious claim that geothermal energy lasts for centuries, scientists such as Stefán Arnórsson and Sigmundur Einarsson were quick to point out that geothermal power in the Reykjanes area — where Magma sought to drill — only had enough power to last about 60 years at best. Although this point was seldom, if ever, brought up in any previous discussion about geothermal power in Iceland, more recent events have shown that geothermal energy is not just non-renewable; it can even pollute. Read More

Nov 09 2011
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From Siberia to Iceland: Century Aluminum, Glencore and the Incestuous World of Mining

Ivan Glasenberg, Glencore International A special report for Saving Iceland by Dónal O’Driscoll

Preface

Glencore are the majority shareholder of Century, the owner of one operational and one half-built smelter in Iceland, it’s key operations for aluminium smelting. But who are Glencore and what are the implications for Iceland? This comprehensive article profiles the world’s biggest commodity broker, who’s only comparable predecessor was Enron. The profile covers the reach and grip of Glencore’s domination of metal, grain, coal and bio-oils markets, allowing it to set prices which profit very few and are detrimental to many. It shows the tight web of connections between the major mining companies and Glencore through shared board history and shared ownership of assets, cataloguing key shareholders (and board members) who’s stakes make them larger shareholders than institutional investors in ownership of Glencore. These connections include Rusal’s co chair Nathaniel Rothschild, a financier with a $40m investment in Glencore, and a personal friend of Peter Mandelson (former EU trade commissioner and British politician) and George Osborne (UK Chancellor).

Demonstration outside Glencore’s Switzerland headquarters. The article details the human rights and environmental abuses of Glencore at it’s many operations, including the 2009 killing of Mayan indigenous leader Adolfo Ich Chamán who spoke out about Century’s activities in Guatemala under CEO-ship of Peter Jones (still a Century board member). It claims that Glencore is higher than most in the running for most abusive and environmentally detrimental mining company, going where lesser devils fear to tread – trading with Congo, Central Asia and embargoed countries such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and apartheid South Africa. Glencore founder Marc Rich was involved in trading embargoed Iranian oil, and fled the United States in 1983 accused of insider dealing and tax dodging over Iranian deals, becoming one of the 10 fugitives most wanted by the FBI, until he was pardoned by Bill Clinton. Glencore is still run by two of his main men. Read More

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Nov 09 2011
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Aluminium Smelters Use Tremendous Amounts Of Electricity, Return Little

Alcoa burns: Fire in Alcoa's smelter in Reyðarfjörður, December 2010 From The Reykjavík Grapevine

The smallest aluminium smelter in Iceland uses 50% more electricity than all of Iceland’s households and businesses combined, while contributing very little to the country’s GDP. Heavy industry has often been touted by Icelandic conservatives as a cash cow: foreign companies can provide the country with jobs, while utilising Iceland’s green energy to produce aluminium in a cleaner fashion.

While the myth of the “green smelter” has been definitively put to rest, aluminium is still billed by some as being good for the economy. However, Vilhjálmur Þorsteinsson – the chair of a study group assembled by the Ministry of Industry that studies Iceland’s energy use – has come to some damning conclusions about smelters in Iceland.

Iceland’s three aluminium smelters – Alcoa in Reyðarfjörður, Norðurál in Grundartangi, and Rio Tinto Alcan in Straumsvík – consume approximately 13 terawatt hours of electricity. The entire capacity of Iceland’s electrical output is 17 terawatt hours. Furthermore, Straumsvík – the smallest smelter in the country – uses 3.6 terawatt hours. The combined total energy consumption of every home and business in Iceland (apart from the smelters) equals only 2.3 terawatt hours.

At the same time, even the best estimates of what smelters contribute to the economy only put them in the neighbourhood of contributing to 5% of the GDP. Tourism accounts for about the same percentage of the GDP while using far less of the power grid. Meanwhile, Iceland’s service sector accounts for 69.9% of its GDP, and fishing accounts for 12%.