Sep 28 2005

Environmental Facts and Figures of the Kárahnjúkar Project

From The Icelandic Society for the Protection of Birds

The building of a gigantic hydropower station has started on the northern edge of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull in Iceland. The power station is needed for the provision of 770 Megawatts for an aluminium smelter being planned by Alcoa in Eastern Iceland, with a capacity of 370,000 metric tons per year. In order for this power capacity to be delivered, one of Iceland’s largest glacial rivers will have to be diverted into another large glacial river, and huge reservoirs will be required in order to maintain the power capacity required throughout the year. The facts and figures of this planned massive intervention in this unspoilt wilderness area are as follows:

• Reservoirs: the largest (Hálslón) will flood 57 square km of land, and a further smaller reservoirs will submerge another 10 square km.

• Dams: the biggest one, in the canyon at Kárahnjúkar, will be 190m high and 770m long; 3 medium-sized dams are collectively 32m high and 1000m long. Additional smaller dams will be built.

•The water will be diverted to the turbines through a 70 km long tunnel/gallery.

• The 150 km long glacial river, Jökulsá á Dal, which has carved out for itself one of the deepest and most attractive canyons in Europe (Dimmugljúfur Canyon, 15 km long – 200 m deep), will be converted to an insignificant stream.

•The diversion of the waters into another glacial river will result in immense changes to the Lagarfljót glacial river (140 km long). Its natural drainage will have to be artificially enlarged and the huge estuary delta will have to be reconstructed.

• Altogether, 3,000 square km or 3% of Icelands total landmass will be affected by this irreversible intervention in the environment. The area affected, where the natural environment and habitats will be destroyed, extends from the edge of the Vatnajökull Glacier to the estuary of the Héraðsflói glacial river.

• A total of 40 square km of land now covered with vegetation will be submerged forever. Soil erosion in the central highlands is one of the greatest environmental problems Iceland has to cope with. It must be feared that the planned reservoirs, where the deposits carried by the glacial rivers will end up (some 10 million metric tons per year), poses an erosion danger when the water level in the reservoirs sink. Yearly water level fluctations of the Hálslón reservoir are 75 m and up to 3/4 of the reservoir will be exposed to wind erosion. This will occur in /winter and spring, when the water reserves will be drawn on. This is the time of year for the wildest storms and even more vegetation will be threatened and covered by the masses of sand and dust carried by violent winds. The effected area of soil erosion will be up to 400 square km.

• A unique former geothermal region with plant fossils will be flooded.

• Flora and fauna: The affected area is one of the few regions in Iceland where the soil and vegetation are still more or less intact. Opponents of the project point out that the project would have unforeseeable consequences for the water table.

• This part of Iceland is home to 1500-2000 reindeer (Rangifer tarrandus) whose summer pastures would be flooded. The total population of reindeer in Iceland is around 4000 animals.

• Some 400-600 female harbour seals (Phoca vitulina vitulina) breed every year on the Jökulsá á Dal delta. By redirecting the river the colony (3-4% of the Icelandic population) would be destroyed.

• The Kárahnjúkar project would affect two IBA’s (BirdLife – Important Bird Areas). Among the bird species whose existence is threatened or would be affected by the changes which the project would bring are:

• Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) – 220 pairs
• Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) – 3800 pairs affected
570 nests would be flooded by the Hálslón reservoir and 2200 pairs would in immediate danger.
9-13.000 moulting geese in the Eyjabakkar IBA will be directly affected by the project.
• Greylag Goose (Anser anser) – 2000 breeding pairs, 10.000 moulting birds affected
• Pintail (Anas acuta) – 100 pairs; 20% of the total Icelandic population

• Shoveler (Anas clypeata) – 5 pairs, one of the rarest Icelandic duck species
• Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) – 27 pairs
• Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) – 1000-2000 pairs
• Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) – over 700 pairs
• Great Skua (Stercorarius skua) – 265 pairs, 5% of the total population
• Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) – some 1300 breeding pairs (possibly the world’s largest breeding colony in Úthérað IBA)

Icelandic Society for the Protection of Birds
P.O. Box 5069 • 125 Reykjavík, Iceland • Tel: 562 0477 • Fax: 551 6413

ISPB (Icelandic Society for the Protection of Birds) in English

Aug 29 2005

Iceland: Dam Nation by Merrick


With the growing awareness of climate change, carbon emission restrictions may not be too far off. Because countries that pollute the most may well get the heaviest restrictions, rather than seeking to reduce their emissions many industrial corporations are looking to move operations abroad.
Iceland, despite modern European levels of education, welfare and wealth, has almost no heavy industry. Their carbon rations will be up for grabs. Seeing the extra pollution coming, in 2001 Iceland got a 10% increase on the CO2 limits imposed by the Kyoto treaty. The problem is that the lack of heavy industry means a lack of the major power supply needed for such things. But Iceland has glacial rivers in vast areas unpopulated by humans; land for hydroelectric dams that can be seen as carbon-neutral. Read More

Aug 18 2005

Aluminium Smelters Add Little to Iceland’s Bottom Line

Iceland Review

In its Tuesday daily bulletin, KB-bank says that the benefit that Iceland derives from aluminium smelters is small. The bank supports this view by claiming that the electricity is sold at close to cost and the rate of return for hydroelectric dams is low. It also says that the economical impact is overstated in the local discourse.

Read More

Aug 17 2005

We who have been protesting…

Saving Iceland

We who have been protesting against heavy industry and the devastating destruction of Iceland’s natural environment at Kárahnjúkar in the Eastern highlands of Iceland and in other parts of the country in recent months would like to take the opportunity to make the following statement:

During our protests we have used methods which may not have a long tradition in Iceland but which do not constitute a breach of the law. We are a broad-based group of Icelanders and people of many other nationalities united by our respect for the natural environment and our intolerance of repression, the misuse of power and the violation of human rights. Read More

Jun 20 2005

Answers from those Arrested at Hotel Nordica 14 June 2005

Answers to common questions about the ‘skyr action’ at Hotel Nordica 14 June, 2005.


the messenger 

Why this conference?

* It was a conference for aluminium and the related industry leaders from all over the world.

* They were here because they think Iceland is right for heavy industrial development. Ironically, this is down to its clean environmental record.

* The people gathered there were key decision makers, financiers and policy drivers behind the Karahnjukar project and other heavy industry developments across Iceland which we oppose.

* A session entitled “An Approach to Sustainability for a Greenfield Aluminium Smelter” started at 11:45 on the day. Hosted by Joe Wahba of Bechtel Corporation and T.M. Sigurdsson of Alcoa, the outrageous hypocrisy of the seminar was extremely provocative to those who truly aspire to the ecological value of sustainability. Read More

Jun 14 2005

Alcoa and Bechtel Greenwashed!!

Saving Iceland
June 2005

Whitewashing efforts by multinational vandals Bechtel and Alcoa were thwarted when environmentalists decided to Greenwash THEM instead.

Update: Paul Gill was released Saturday morning. He is to be detained in the country for two weeks and has to report twice a day to the police station in Reykjavik, which is unprecedented!

Delegates at the 10th World Aluminium Conference on Tuesday 14th June in Reykjavik were happily nodding and snoozing their way through a hypocritical sermon enjoying the oxymoronic title ‘An Approach to Sustainability For A Greenfield Aluminium Smelter’ when they suddenly found themselves rudely awoken by a group of protesters who ran in and drenched the speakers – industry fat cats Joe Wahba (Bechtel) and Tomas Mar Sigurdsson (Alcoa)- in green skyr (a kind of Icelandic runny yoghurt). Numerous other delegates were also spattered with the stuff. Read More

Jun 04 2005

The Grapes of Vaði – Interview with Guðmundur Ármannsson Farmer at Vað and Host to Saving Iceland Protest Camp in 2005

Grapevine Issue 6, August 2004 with update Jan. 2006

In the 1930s, dust storms swept the southern plains of the United States. The “Black Blizzards,” as they were called, had come about because of overfarming, which had caused the topsoil to wear thin and become dust. Crops failed, and as the banks that held the mortgages realised they would not be getting returns on their interest, farmers were run off of their land. Their plight is immortalised in the songs of Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck’s book “The Grapes of Wrath”, which went on to become a Hollywood film starring Henry Fonda as Steinbeck´s protagonist Tom Joad. Read More

May 15 2005
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‘Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project – Estimate of Profitability’ by Thorsteinn Siglaugsson, MBA

Prepared for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association
Thorsteinn Siglaugsson MBA
Reykjavik 2002



Landsvirkjun, the state-owned electric power company in Iceland has for some time been planning a large hydropower plant in the area north of Vatnajokull, Europe´s largest glacier in the east of Iceland. The facility would be built to produce electricity for a 390,000 ton aluminium smelter in Reydarfjördur on the east coast of Iceland.

Until recently a consortioum of Icelandic banks, pension funds and the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro planned to build and run the Reydarfjordur smelter, a prerequisite for initiating the Karahnjukar project. Early 2002 Norsk Hydro decided to postpone its final decision on the project. Subsequently the Icelandic government decided to seek other investors. In september Alcoa and the government signed an agreement to take up talks to build a 295,000 ton smelter in Reydarfjordur run on electric power from the Karahnjukar plant.

According to a previous study conducted for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association the Karahnjukar plant would not be financially viable when valued based on market rates of interest and return on equity expected for a comparable project. As a state owned company Landsvirkjun does however enjoy full financial backing from the state of Iceland and is able to borrow at sovereign rates. The Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation prepared an assessment of Landsvirkjun´s plans in September 2001 confirming that the project could support the cost of capital demanded by Landsvirkjun based on Landsvirkjun´s estimate of future power prices.

There are considerable differences between the current and earlier plans. The size of the power plant is different as well as the expected investment. The buyer profile is different which no doubt has an effect on interest rates and the construction timeline for the Karahnjukar plant is considerably shorter according to the current plans.

This report aims to compare the financial characteristics of the earlier plans for the Karahnjukar plant with the current plans. This includes an analysis of buyer risk profile, estimate of probable power price based on current and forecasted aluminium prices and the constraints provided by the general cost structure in the aluminium industry.

Read the report here or on the original site

May 08 2005

Some Older Links on SavingIceland.Org

Eyjabakkar and Snaefell 

Mt. Snæfell and Eyjabakkar – Under severe threat by Alcoa and Landsvirkjun

Read More

Apr 19 2005

British MPs Support Our Campaign Against the Icelandic Dams

The Icelandic government and media tried to hush this story up by not reporting it for months! When environmental activist Olafur Pall Sigurdsson was being interviewed on a chat programme on the State Radio about hypothetical questions of civil disobedience he seized the opportunity and read aloud the whole of Doughty’s EDM. The programme presenter was seriously reprimanded by her bosses for allowing this.

British MP Sue Doughty has tabled a Parliamentary motion calling on the British Government to use its diplomatic links with Iceland to persuade the Icelandic Government to terminate the building of a series of dams in the Icelandic Highlands.
Read More