Jul 12 2008

Saving Iceland Prepares to Target Hellisheiðarvirkjun

Background information to this press release

Searching for sustainability
Confronted with a limited supply of energy sources, the carbon intensive metal and hi-tech industry is desperately seeking alternatives. Waving the magic wand of sustainable development, modern industry proudly claims that, by developing new technologies, it will be able to control greenhouse gasses within 15 years and to solve the whole climate issue within 50 years. Meanwhile corporations as Alcoa, Elkem, Century Aluminium, Rio Tinto Alcan, R&D Carbon Ltd., Hydro, Icelandic Hi-Tech Industry, The Geostream Services Group, etc have found a habitat in (among others) Europe’s last natural wilderness: Iceland.

Aluminium and Iceland
This beautiful country is now becoming one of the largest aluminium producers in Europe. Investors enjoy low business taxes and minimal environmental regulations. The aluminium smelters are supplied with hydro-energy (generated by gigantic dams and reservoirs) or by geothermal energy. The definition of these energies as ‘renewable’ gave Iceland a special status in relation to Kyoto norms. The 2005 Kyoto protocol exemption allows it to emit an extra 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 /year until 2012.
Through lobby groups (e.g. the Global Climate Coalition, Global Round-Table on Climate Change, Aluminium for Future Generations) the aluminium industry was heavily involved in the design of the Kyoto Protocol and managed to push for ‘voluntary agreements and market based flexible mechanisms’. These lobbying groups have also attempted to cast doubt over climate change science in order to derail activism on the issue.
The most energy-intensive metal industry presents itself with winged words like “lighter, faster, recyclable”. It distributes information brochures pretending that smelters in Iceland only emit water vapour. The actual reality is quite different.
The whole cycle of producing one ton of aluminium – from bauxite mining to finished product – creates around 12 tons of CO2,1 of which the industry annually emits a total of around 3 billion tons.
But CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas. The aluminium industry is the major producer of perfluorocarbon emissions (PFC’s): tetrafluoromethane and hexafluoromethane. These linger in the atmosphere for 50,000 and 10,000 years respectively and are 6,500 and 9,200 times more damaging greenhouse gasses than CO2.2 Such figures speak for themselves. Furthermore, Icelandic smelters alone emit 80 tons of hydrogen fluoride and almost 4,000 tons of sulphur dioxide. The Icelandic Ministry of Environment allowed ALCOA to emit 12 times the amount of sulphur dioxide the World Bank considers acceptable.
Iceland currently emits 17 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG´s) per capita per year in comparison to the European average of 11 tonnes, and will achieve a 63% increase on 1990 levels by 2012 if all industrial plans go ahead.

The lie of Green Energy

1. Large dams and hydro-energy
Large dams are environmentally disastrous as they involve destroying rivers, the source of fertility to nourish the land and oceans. They also have several serious implications for climate change.
When a reservoir fills, the original vegetation starts to rot. The resulting methane gas escapes when the water streams through the turbines under pressure. As reservoirs’ water levels seasonally rise and fall, vegetation continues to grow and rot on fertile silty soil and on the reservoir surface, leading to continued emissions throughout the dams lifetime. A reservoir works like a large motor converting carbon into methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times stronger than CO2. These emissions are not recognised by the Kyoto protocol.
Recent studies suggest that glacial silt is one of the major nutrition sources for plankton, which absorbs large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. The heavy industry ‘Master-plan’ to dam Iceland’s 11 major glacial rivers results in a substantial decrease of nutritional material in the North Atlantic and thus contributes directly to global warming.

1. Geothermal energy
Geothermal plants have serious environmental consequences, enormously aggravated by their absolute exploitation for energy to supply power hungry and polluting aluminium smelters. These include:
Emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG´s) of 30 – 40,000 tonnes per 90MW power production. As emissions above 30,000 tonnes require a special Kyoto permit, Icelandic power companies always conveniently report exactly this weight of GHG’s. CO2 can be cleaned from emitted steam to create chalk but the process is not profitable and is therefore avoided.
Air and chemical pollution, including the emissions of heavy metals, the radioactive element Radon and toxic elements Arsenic, Mercury, Ammonia, Boron (highly toxic to plants). Waste steam is sprayed over surrounding vegetation (usually rare species in geothermal areas), while waste water is either reinjected (inducing earthquakes), or pumped into streams and lakes untreated (resulting in organic death of these waters), as treatment is considered too costly to be economically viable.3

War is good for ALCOA
No war can be ended successfully without using enormous quantities of aluminium – and destroying them again. 30% of the aluminium production is reserved for the military industry. Aluminium is the core metal for modern warfare, indispensable for tanks, missiles, fight planes and nuclear weapons. ALCOA’s ties to the American war industry are no secret, but also ALCAN-Rio Tinto and Century are suppliers of European, American and Russian armies and arm producers.

The whole point is no longer about searching for alternative energy sources to enable the economy’s further growth. It’s about the quest for a climate neutral lifestyle. About the struggle to reacquire a lifestyle for which we no longer need (in mankind’s history) recently discovered energy like electricity – nor the alternative, renewable and so-called sustainable energies mentioned above, nor the sources for them.
The point is to free ourselves, with joined forces, from our enslaving dependency on energy and technology. It is not only the fact that CO2 emissions and the western economies’ total use of materials have to decrease by a factor of 10 (i.e. 90%), and that this should happen based on the principles of efficiency (same function, less pressure on the environment, e.g. through a technological sustainability revolution), less (lower pressure by consumption moderation) and different (realise the same function differently). The whole point is to have the courage to question that function an sich. It’s not about progress. It’s about taking a step back. It’s not about growth. It’s about shrinking.


  • Anderson, Dewey 1951, Aluminum for Defence and Prosperity, Washington: US Public Affairs Institute
  • Bakan, Joel 2004, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit, London: Constable
  • Blum, William 2003, Killing Hope: US Militarism and CIA Interventions since World War Two, London
  • S. Das & F. Padel, 2005. “Double Death – Aluminium’s Links with Genocide”, Economic and Political Weekly, Dec. 2005, also available at https://www.savingiceland.org/doubledeath
  • Gislason, Sigurdur R. et al, 2006. ‘Role of river-suspended material in the global carbon cycle’. Geology. Jan, 2006.
  • Graham, Ronald 1982, The Aluminium Industry and the Third World, London: Zed
  • Harnisch et al, “Greenhouse worries for the aluminum industry,” Energy, Economics and Climate Change, Jan. 1992
  • Harnisch, J., Wing, I. S., Jacoby, H., Prins, R., “Primary aluminium production: climate policy, emissions and costs,” paper presented at the Kyoto and Montreal Protocols’ Joint Expert Meeting, Petten, May 1999
  • Holloway, Zed 1988: The Aluminium Multinationals and the Bauxite Cartel, NY: St Martin’s Press
  • Huglen, R, and Kvande, H, ‘Global considerations of aluminium electrolysis on energy and the environment’, Light Metals 1994, pp. 373-380
  • IPS/SEEN/TNI, ‘Behind the Sheen: Aluminium’s Dark Side,’ 2001
  • Kristmannsdóttir, H, and Armannsson. H, 2003. ‘Environmental aspects of geothermal energy utilization.’ in Geothermics vol.32, p.451-461.
  • Mahariya, Baba 2001, ‘Development: At Whose Cost? An Adivasi on Dislocation and Displacement’, in KC Yadav ed Beyond the Mud Walls: Indian Social Realities, Delhi: Hope India
  • Mathias, Alex 2003, ‘Greening Aluminium’, in The Carbon Challenge Journal, London
  • McCully, Patrick, 2001. Silenced Rivers: The ecology and politics of large dams. Zen Books. London.

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7 Responses to “Saving Iceland Prepares to Target Hellisheiðarvirkjun”

  1. Björn says:

    Nice website. Now I am all for you, but why on Hellisheidi? I would like to see you do more regarding the damn smelters!! They are really bad for our enviroment.

  2. laura says:

    Thanks! The expansion of Hellisheiðarvirkjun is to power Alcan and Century’s expansion plans. No power = no smelter!

  3. Janet says:

    I like new “outfit” of the website. Good luck with the camp. I hope the weather will be on your side.

  4. savitri d says:

    Saving Iceland! We send you all strength and wisdom from New York City. May you have fine weather and excellent food! May the police be rendered absolutely powerless in your presence! May the corporate sheep wander off the mountain! May your cause illuminate the halls of government with the bright and unfailing light of true justice! May the loyalty of the people waver only in its righteousness and may all your dreams come true. Long Live The Wilderness! Down with Heavy Industry!

  5. Jón Brúnsteð Jóhannesson says:

    Saving iceland! We send you pure hell from here in east iceland.. May you burn in hell! May the food you steal be rotten to the core! But most off, MAY YOU SEE THE LIGHT AND GO TO SCHOOL, GET JOBS, DO SOMETHING MEANINGFUL WITH YOUR LIFES. BY ALL MEANS

    Jón B Jóhannesson

  6. Sigurður Magnússon says:

    Dear Jón Brúnsteð

    Is it that ALCOA have already made the soul you entrusted them with so ugly, or is it just the hormones that are treating the 17 year old rough in Alcoafjörður??

  7. smanthahyden says:

    i think worlds distruction started when a human first steped on this planet.You should erase that first.Then u dont hav ta SAVE ANY LAND.We are the problem.We need to amend our manners.That can b done at hme.If you dont intend to change even GOD distributed books can not turn da tables or show miracles!