Aug 12 2009

Saving Iceland Stops Work on Helguvík Smelter Site

This morning, 20 people from Saving Iceland stopped work on the Norðuál/Century’s smelter construction site in Helguvík. People locked on to three vehicle gates in to the site and therefor stopped all traffic in and out of it. People also locked on to machinery on the site so the work was stopped for at least two hours. The construction in Helguvík has to be stopped to prevent further destruction of wilderness by the damming of glacial rivers and geothermal areas, as well as the global impacts of aluminium production. 

Not so long ago, the government with Össur Skarphéðinsson (then Minister of Industry) in the front, made a special discount contract with Norðurál/Century, which was signed last Friday in the shadow of Saving Iceland’s green skyr throwing. (1) The contract includes financial support from the Icelandic state in the form of a tax discount that amounts to 16,2 million US dollars. Norðurál/Century is therefor free from paying industry fees, market fees and electricity safety fees as well as special rules will apply concerning stamp duty and planning fees, and about new taxes. (2)

The contract concerns a 360.000 ton aluminium smelter but the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – made by HRV Engineering, one of the biggest interest party concerning aluminium and energy construction in Iceland (3) – only concerns 250.000 ton production per year. Apart from that, Norðurál/Century has only been received 150.000 ton Greenhouse Gases emission permits. This difference seems not to be standing in the way of a 360.000 ton smelter construction – as usual when it comes to this type of construction.

The more construction that takes place in the shortest amount of time, the more unlikely it is that the project will be stopped. Therefor, construction in Helguvík started long before all needed permits had been granted for the size of a smelter that Norðurál/Century plans to build. The energy for the smelter has not been found and the same story can be said about energy transportation. This kind of behavior can only been described as misuse of power and characterizes all discussion and construction connected to aluminium and energy issues here in Iceland. 

The Damming of Þjórsá River is one of the Main Premises for Helguvík
Since the discussion about the Helguvík smelter started, environmentalists like Ómar Ragnarsson and Saving Iceland, have pointed out the obvious fact that if the geothermal areas on the Reykjanes peninsula will be exploited according to the plan, they will dry up completely. Also that this energy would still not be enough for Norðurál/Century’s planned 360.000 ton production. (4) Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Evironment recently repeated the latter point in Parliament. (5)

Until now these concerns of environmentalists have been answered in the way that they are nothing but pure speculations and the environmentalists have been criticized for not basing their pleading on stronger arguments. Landsvirkjun’s (national energy company) statement about not selling more energy to aluminium smelters on the south-west corner of the country, which though did not give any promises about the moratorium of the planned Þjórsá River dams, strengthened the pleading of those who accused environmentalists of speculations. (6)

Now it is clear that environmentalists were right; the aluminium smelter in Helguvík and planned increased production in Rio Tinto-Alcan’s smelter in Straumsvík, are dependent on the Þjórsá River dams. A recent so-called convention of stability, signed by the authorities and the economy’s representatives, depends on the construction of those dams, according to recent announcements from A.S.Í. (one of Iceland’s biggest labour unions) and Samtök Iðnaðarins (The Industry’s Association), where it says that all obstacles that could possibly stand in the way of the construction have to be removed before the coming 1. of November. (7) Katrín Júlíusdóttir’s (Minister of Industry) recent comments about Landsvirkjun’s possible energy sale to Norðurál/Helguvík makes this proposal more likely, though she has never especially mentioned Þjórsá. Where else should the energy come from any way? (8)

Insignificant Jabber About Environmentalism as Prosperity Politics
From the beginning of the bank collapse, the voices stating that environmentalism does not fit in at times of economical depression, have become louder. Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, the head of Vinstri Grænir (the Left Greens), has now taken up the same argument and called the party’s environmental policy a puritan policy and said that it is not suitable for today’s conditions. (9) This has probably given up all hope for people who still believe in reforms within the representative democracy system. People wake up from a bad dream and realize that they need to do something themselves about it. According to recent news that seem to have started; the homes of moneybags, bank directors and people in high positions in the aluminium and energy business, have repeatedly been targeted with paint-bombs and super-glue. 

In an article written by Sigfússon one year ago he said e.g. that the devotees of Icelandic nature could not surrender and then added: “The best and the most environmental friendly options to harness are in the minds of local people, in progressive thinking and open minds.” (10) These sudden opinion changes of Steingrímur go together with the Left Greens´changed behavior since the party got in power in the beginning of this year. The party´presence in government has showed and proved what happens to people when they get power – or simply what the Left Greens´real intendment was concerning environmentalism. The latter option is maybe not so far away from the truth as Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir (former Minister of Environment) was kicked out of the party for being to genuine environmentalist. 

There is always the need for protection of the environment! There is always the need for radical ideas about protecting the natural environment – the protection of nature for the sake of nature. People can not be fooled by empty words about destruction of nature for increased economic growth and buildup of the Icelandic economy. Were these not the exactly the same argument as used to raise support for the construction of Kárahnjúkar Dam and Alcoa´s smelter in Reyðarfjörður? These projects lead to gigantic environmental damage and democracy deficit, which was nothing but an opinion repression. (11) Landsvirkjun´s debts because of the project are seriously heavy and when looked at how shamelessly the Icelandic government forced the debts of privatized banks on to the public´s shoulders, there is no sign of any difference if state owned companies like Landsvirkjun will become broke.
 
Our struggle continues; against the destruction of this planet in the name of financial growth and the humans’ domination over the natural environment. The nature is the premise for life, so as long as it is being threatened we must resist. 

Resources:

(1) The Police Roughs Up a Protester – The Media Helps Sustaining the Smear, an article on Saving Iceland’s webpage, http://www.savingiceland.org/?p=4034&language=en
(2) News article on Smugan, www.smugan.is/frettir/frettir/nr/2258 
(3) HRV has taken part in all of the major constructions connected to heavy industry in Iceland. See their web page: http://hrv.is/hrv/Projects/ 
(4) Helguvík þurrkar upp jarðhitann, frétt á Vísi.is, http://www.visir.is/article/2009763862694
(5) News article on Mbl.is, http://www.mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2009/06/16/ekki_til_orka_fyrir_helguvik
(6) News article on á Mbl.is, http://mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2009/01/06/ekki_virkjad_til_albraedslu/
(7) News article on Vísir.is, http://www.visir.is/article/2009452687092
(8) News article on Mbl.is, http://mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2009/07/21/selur_landsvirkjun_orku_til_helguvikur/
(9) An interview with Steingrímur J. Sigfússon in Kastljós, Thursday August 6th 2009, http://dagskra.ruv.is/sjonvarpid/4466688/2009/08/06/0/
(10) Álhöfðunum lamið við steininn, an article by Steingrímur J. Sigfússon in Morgunblaðið, June 30th 2008
(11) ‘Green’ Deception Flops – A Statement from Saving Iceland Regarding Skyr Splashings of Election Offices, an article on Saving Iceland’s web page, http://www.savingiceland.org/?p=3874&language=en


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