For more details on these issues, see longer version below.
Maps image upload
Click map twice to enlarge fully.

The map shows Iceland in 2020 if the government’s promises of
energy production for heavy industry are to be
delivered. All major glacial rivers in Iceland must
be harnessed in accordance with Master Plan,
phase 1. The orange blobs are some of the
targeted geothermal sites.


The Icelandic highlands are the last great expanse of true wilderness left in Western Europe. Now the country’s hydroelectric potential has been targeted by multinational corporations, who intend to establish large-scale heavy industry in these hitherto pristine hinterlands. These multinational vandals – willingly helped by the Icelandic government – are about to produce an environmental catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.

Incredibly, some areas earmarked for destruction – such as Kringilsárrani and Thjórsárver in the southern highlands – are protected under Icelandic and international law. All are of outstanding natural beauty and their unique botanical, geological, biological and ecological characteristics are of universal scientific importance.

Thus far the Icelandic government has not hesitated to use tactics such as personal threats and professional persecution against individuals who oppose its energy policies, and Icelandic environmentalists are fighting a difficult battle that they predict will not be won overnight.

The Icelandic High Court ruled in June 2005 that the ALCOA factory’s planning permission is invalid as the company has not produced a proper environmental impact assessment, yet the building of the factory continues as if nothing had happened! How much more rotten can the Aluminium Republic of Iceland become!?

ALCOA is now hastily putting together an EIA, replete with meaningless clichés such as, ‘The most modern pollution controls will be used’. We have become very familiar with this sort of double talk from ALCOA and their scheming servant, the Icelandic National Power Company, Landsvirkjun. However, more and more people are beginning to see through these lies.

The term ‘Kárahnjúkar problem’ has become common usage in Iceland. People are now losing their jobs all over Iceland due to the unhealthy expansion of the small Icelandic economy caused by the massive Kárahnjúkar project. Many Icelandic export companies are now either going bankrupt or being forced to relocate abroad due to the fact the Icelandic currency is too strong. Inflation is rising and the goverment is steadily coming under heavier flak fom the financial sector for its heavy industry policy. In June 2006 PM Halldór Ásgrímsson was forced to resign due to the state of the economy. These economical effects of the ‘Kárahnjúkar problem’ are exactly what economists opposed to the project predicted would happen, but their voices were either ignored or vilified by the government.

FT cartoon 

Financial Times 1-2 April 2006

There is an ever-growing awareness amongst the Icelandic population that the Kárahnjúkar dams are ill fated. The immense problems with their construction and the massive scale of the ensuing environmental destruction is becoming clearer every day. Furthermore, the dam is being built right in a seismically unstable area and would present a serious threat to the local population and environment. The government and Landsvirkjun tried to suppress evidence for this for a long time, but finally admitted the truth in early 2005. But they still try to curtail the freedom of speach of concerned scientists. The most recent example is the gagging order (in summer of 2006) put by Reykjavík Energy on Grímur Björnsson, one of Iceland’s top geologists.

Furthermore, geologists point out that it is highly likely that the immense weight of water in the reservoir will create further fissures in the unstable geological crust and, as a consequence, will never be able to hold enough water to make the dam operational and endanger the safety of the local communities.


Click for larger
Earthquake zone at Kárahnjúkar volcanoes
White lines = Ground rock cracks
Yellow lines = Erosion of sediments. Erosion is parallel
to cracks: Sediments are cracked, cracking is still active

A Gallup poll carried out in March 2005 showed that around half the nation believes that the Kárahnjúkar project is a huge mistake.

One of the main arguments for the dam is that hydropower is eco-friendly. Yet the reservoirs would submerge vegetation which in turn would rot and contribute to greenhouse gases. Recent studies show that hydroelectric dams produce significant amounts of CO2 and methane – some produce more greenhouse gases than fossil-fuel power plants. Nor would the reservoirs provide renewable energy because they would ultimately silt up with sediment from the glacial rivers and render them useless. The constantly fluctuating water levels in the reservoirs would cause dust storms and soil erosion which would have a devastating effect on the vegetation of the region. It is estimated that up to 3000sq km will be affected.

Moreover, starving the marine life of the normal silt emissions would constitute a serious threat to the valuable Icelandic fishing grounds. A recent study shows that free flowing glacial rivers are vital in reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and as such are already harnessed by nature. Blocking the silt emissions to the ocean nullifies this immensely beneficial role of glacial rivers. Another recent study shows that the Icelandic glacial rivers have more beneficial effect on the planet’s atmosphere than the combined rivers of the African continent.

The dams would also destroy the breeding grounds of thousands of rare and “protected” birds, a substantial proportion of the reindeer population, and one of Iceland’s largest seal communities.

upload images 

The Kárahnjúkar dam construction has already fallen way behind schedule. It is now (late August 2006) only 68% through. Much damage has been done but experts agree that 90% of the irreversible environmental damage will occur only when the water floods the land. The longer the construction of the dams and headrace tunnels takes the more time we have to expose the lies of the Icelandic government and ALCOA, and to put a stop to this disastrous project.

Landsvirkjun has announced that it will not be able to deliver energy to ALCOA as promised on 1 April 2007 and that they might not even be able to deliver by 1 October 2007. The Icelandic government tends to negotiate on its knees when it comes to foreign corporations. ALCOA does not only get the dams for free, courtesy of the Icelandic taxpayer, but according to the contract, ALCOA will demand compensation from the Icelandic taxpayer every day Landsvirkjun does not deliver the energy.

Landsvirkjun is fond of stating that the decision to go ahead with the dams at Kárahnjúkar was democratically voted on by the Icelandic parliament. There is often a wide gap between authentic democracy and representative government in Iceland, as anywhere else. How can the members of a parliament make an informed decision when vital information is being withheld, selected or even systematically falsified!? It has now been confirmed (late August ’06) that Landsvirkjun and V. Sverrisdottir, ex-Minister of Industry, withheld both vital economic and geological reports from parliament at the time of the vote. This is ample evidence that the decision to go ahead with the Kárahnjúkar project was NOT reached democratically and that MP’s and the public were not being told the truth.


The Kárahnjúkar project stands as a typical blueprint for international multi-billion-dollar megaprojects where promoters self-servingly misinform parliaments, the public and the media in order to get projects approved and built. The formula for approval is a cocktail of underestimated costs, overestimated revenues, undervalued environmental impacts and overvalued economic development effects.

Our demands include the immediate halt of construction on the dams at Kárahnjúkar. We also demand a complete review of the way the scientific research has been interpreted and of the autocratic decision-making behind the many other ongoing projects and plans for the sacrifice of the Icelandic countryside to power further heavy industrialisation.

We oppose the Third-world policy of concentrating on primary production as the only option, with its monotonous employment opportunities and unhealthy working conditions. A Gallup survey carried out for the Icelandic anti-dam group Nature Watch in January-February 2005 showed that 90% of the nation do not want any more heavy industry in Iceland and that they favour an emphasis on knowledge-based low-impact industries and tourism. Yet the Icelandic government has advertised the Icelandic people in international trade magazines as a low-wage workforce ideal for primary production. This is in keeping with the growing gap between poor and rich under this government and the decline in health care and education.

destruction 2 

Workers for the heavily corrupt Impregilo, the main contractor on the Kárahnjúkar dams, live in squalid conditions, are routinely put in life-threatening situations and abused in various other ways. Icelandic trades unionists have repeatedly complained that Impregilo have been allowed to break the law for months at a time.

By encouraging the use of cheap international migratory labour for building the dams and building and working in the ALCOA aluminium smelter, the Icelandic authorities are deliberately trying to undermine the achievements of a century-long struggle for the rights of Icelandic workers. This also exposes as completely false the claims of the Icelandic government that the Kárahnjúkar project is to create jobs for the Icelandic people of the East. Over 90% of the workers building the dams and the ALCOA factory are foreign!

This goes hand in hand with the sale of the cheapest energy in the world (the ‘top secret’ price was recently leaked by the ever clumsy alcoa.com) at the cost of the vandalisation of one of Iceland’s greatest assets, which is unspoilt nature. The hypocrisy of ALCOA and the Icelandic government is clear to behold in the exemption which the government negotiated from the Kyoto protocol in order to make this heavy-industry policy possible. Ironically, Icelanders boast of living in an unspoilt land and promote the country as pristine. If the government’s policy of heavy industrialisation is not stopped, such a promotion of Icelandic nature is absurd and false.

ALCOA (yes, again!) want to build another aluminium factory in the north of the country, at Bakki near the town of Húsavík. ALCAN and Century Aluminum have already been given the green light to expand greatly their existing smelters in the south-west of Iceland. Century Aluminum also want to build yet another aluminium smelter in Helguvík, near Keflavík. In addition, R&D Carbon Ltd. have secured planning permission for a highly polluting anode rod plant at Katanes in Hvalfjordur. Environmental scientists have alerted the people of Reykjavík to the grave consequences if these projects are realised. The scientists calculate that Faxaflói bay, where the capital is situated, ‘is destined to quickly become the most heavily polluted area in Northern Europe’.

Let’s not forget that almost all the companies mentioned above have a long history of convictions for crimes against nature and still have judgements pending on charges of serious environmental damage or corruption.

Icelandic environmentalists are prepared for a battle that is certain to go on for many years. International help and pressure will be of paramount importance in that fight. ALCOA has bought its way into the US arm of World Wide Fund for Nature and as a result we have lost valuable support. This may partly explain the scandalous international conspiracy of silence when it comes to the desperate situation of Icelandic environmentalism.

This attack on Icelandic nature is not a domestic affair for the Icelanders; pollution knows no national borders. The reason for the presence in Iceland in the summer of 2005 (and again in 2006) of a large group of protesters from the international community should be obvious in the light of globalisation. After all, the government has invited multinational corporations to the country to take part in this feeding frenzy of heavy industry that now has Icelandic society and nature in its grip. We are fighting a global ecological crime perpetrated on a global natural heritage.

The support of hundreds of international environmentalists is a great boost to morale and their continuing support will be of paramount importance.


Summer solstice in 2005 marked the beginning of a highly inspirational and unique event in the history of Icelandic activism. The international protest camps this year (2006) at Snæfell, Lindur and Reyðarfjörður attracted people from 18 different nationalities. Best of all, this summer saw many more Icelanders join the protests. We find that the camps and the direct actions of the last two summers have had a profound effect on Icelandic society by giving people the courage to make their voices heard after years of a repressive political atmosphere.

One of many effects the protests have had on the Icelandic nation is that people are now actually daring to change their minds about the dams. The protests have managed to get the heavy industry issue and its consequences back into focus. As mentioned above, many people working in the financial sector have raised their voices against the Kárahnjúkar project, pointing out that the aluminium industry adds very little to the Icelandic economy. We have managed to create a fresh new focus and dialogue in Icelandic society about heavy industry. Every day we see new demands that this unimaginative neo-Stalinist emphasis on build-up of heavy industry must be stopped. More young Icelandic people have joined the fight. Hope has been rekindled.

As a response to this greater awarenes of environmental issues Reykjavík City council (who own 45% of Landsvirkjun) finally ruled in January 2006 that they oppose any further destruction of the Thjórsárver wetlands. This has forced ALCAN to relinquish their claims on energy from Thjórsárver and Landsvirkjun to “put aside” their plans for the Ramsar listed site.

This is a great victory for environmentalists and shows that our struggle is having desired results. This also shows that direct action can be a very effective way to fight the enemies of nature. But the licence of Landsvirkjun to tamper with Thjórsárver remains to be revoked by parliament. The cancelation of the Nordlingaöldu project (Thjórsárver) also puts other areas in greater danger. Now Landsvirkjun is going ahead with two dams further south in the river of Thjórsá to provide energy for the ALCAN expansion. The developments in the Thjórsárver issue are a great encouragement, but they also intensify the fight that is ahead.

upload images 

Langisjór – Click image for larger photo

One of Europe’s most beautiful lakes, Langisjór, is still threatened and the pressure is increasing for the geothermal areas found all over Iceland. Geothermal energy is destined to become the new bogus “green” energy of the aluminium industry. Compared with the hydro projects the geothermal projects have less environmental impact. But they still result in great irreversible environmental damage to globally unique nature. Iceland should not squander its energy resources and pristine nature on the most polluting industry in the world. The Hengill area near Reykjavík has now been irreversibly vandalised by Reykjavik Energy to provide energy for the extension of the Century Aluminum smelter in Hvalfjörður. Test drilling has already started in the north of Iceland (at Þeistareykir, Bjarnarflag and the western part of the Krafla area) to provide power for the projected and highly polluting ALCOA factory near Húsavík. “The monster must be fed.”

Iceland is the last great expanse of truly unspoilt and magical wilderness left in Europe. It should really be a cause for celebration and wonder how pristine this strangely vibrant island still remains. The world cannot afford to allow beautiful Iceland to be devastated by corporate greed.





For contact and to indicate your interest in joining us please email.

You can also subscribe to our ‘News and Updates’ (the subscribtion box is to the left on this website.)

‘Resources’ has posters, stickers, pamphlet, articles and other useful stuff to download and distribute. Please see also ‘Join the fight’, ‘Threatened Areas’ and ‘Articles’ for more info and material.

The above text is downloadable as a pamphlet in English (pdf)



Powerpoint show of some of the areas endangered by the aluminium industry

Photos from the land that is being destroyed by the dams at Kárahnjúkar

Map of the “The Intended Master Plan” with English legend

This site also hosts a huge amount of more information, click on one of the topics to the side for more.

Pages: 1 2

22 Responses to “S.O.S.”

  1. Anonymous_1 says:

    You people don´t know what you are talking about. Iceland´s nature is still there and this is in the economic interest of our country. Actually the road construction for the Karahnjukar dam opens up the highlands for nature lovers. It also brings economic development to the eastern part of the country and keeps the island evenly settled. This is important for our tourism.

    Would you rather we open a new Sellafield nuclear power plant in Iceland? Please tend to your own garden. Any nation that produces nuclear power pollution, serial killers and mad cow disease has plenty of problems at home for its young radicals to occupy themselves with.

    Please stay away from our country!

    Concerned Icelandic citizen

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is true that this construction and activity in Iceland’s highlands is going to have major influence on the nature in that area. However, protestants woke up 3 years too late. Face it, it is too late to be stopped. Alot of the damage has already been done.

  3. Þór says:

    One question… are you Icelandic citizens or are you just not minding your own business??

  4. paul kaplan says:

    Don’t trust alcoa and other large american based greedy companies.They’ll tell you what you want to hear and then do exactly what they want.Once they get their plant built and employees hired,they’ll play a new game.Go along with them and their policies or they’ll threaten to shut their plant down and put people out of work.The Icelandic landscape is too precious to be destroyed by money and greed.These corporations must be stopped.

  5. Tumi says:

    It is not true that there has not been any protest against the Karahnjukar project until now. It has been fought hard against from the start. But this summer’s international protests are a new phase and a very important one that will have great repercusions.

    First it was Eyjabakkar and we managed to save them. Now it is Karahnjukar and they will grind to a halt as the polticians and technocrats who are responsible will drown in the consequences of their own corruption and stupidity.

    Next it will be Thjorsarver and Langisjor and we will stop them too.

  6. me says:

    aagh, guess it’s all on then… the big biz aren’t even trying to be subtle now are they?
    any ideas for solidarity actions for those who can’t/don’t want to fly to your aid?
    from Aotearoa/New Zealand

  7. Björgvin (Icelandic) says:

    It´s funny that some people think that we can’t build a road unless we build a huge dam and aluminium smelter also. Let´s say the road was a good thing to “open up the highlands” for people. Pretty dam expencive road that was. This area has always been open… for people who really enjoy staying in nature, taking a hike and look at it, not only through their cars windows but actually feeling it!

    We don´t need more power, that´s the point. We waste power now and if we would use it more wisely, we would have more than enough. We are giving the power away to the aluminium factories, Ipregilo pays so low that almost no Icelander works up there. We will loose money on this project, not gain money. It´s causing inflation and making companies elsewere in Iceland go bankrupt. It´s a short term solution. We are too lazy to think of any real solutions.

    Someone metioned that the protests are comming too late, that´s not right. Cause if no one does anything they will continue on and on.

    I´m proud of my land… and I want to be able to see it, not just photograps of land that used to be.

  8. Baldvin says:

    Im Icelandic and welcome all protestors here-you should definetly stand up for what you believe to be right and no matter where in the world anyone is from this sort of thing concerns everyone. Building this dam is a huge mistake. It will not do anything for the economy at all-there is no proof of that and if things go the way they are now it might actually turn out to undermine Icelandic companies. Alcoa was made to pay the highest ever settlement or fine ever in history for a specific type of pollution rule-break. They are definetly not to be trusted. Aside from people not getting paid and living in bad conditions at the karahnjukar area- which i hear has improved- more than 70% of the workforce there is foreign. Icelanders are not getting the better end of the deal- neither is the world for that matter. If there would be an earthquake or volcanic eruption resulting in flooding this would certainly all go to hell- yet there is still time to stop this. People have no idea what they are doing up there and the consequences will be seen for decades to come-when later generations will have to clean up this mess-which they will.
    Greed is the killer

  9. eric says:

    have you ever thought about the people who need jobs to support there familys in ice land? this will totally change there economy for the better. are you concerned about mother earth? it was here long before we were and will be here when we are gone. we are very a very small part of the earth’s natural cycle.did you know that one volcano destroys more o-zone layer than man has done since he has been here? think and reserch the true facts before you protest.

  10. isabella says:

    [A letter to SavingIceland]

    Good morning,

    I am very much against this project too.

    This project is not about providing cheap energy for industry, it is about creating a civil engineering monument which will become a “white elephant”.

    We all know that the energy could have been provided much more easily and quickly by bore holes, as has been recently proved once again in the Reykjanes peninsula. But, the Icelandic government wants this grand civil engineering project instead ! I have also heard recently that the tunnels they are boring through the mountains to provide the drain off’s to the generators have hit problems due to the strata along a fault line. This has meant that they can no longer tunnel in the impervious layer and are now having to concrete ahead of the tunnelling machine to provide an impervious layer!!! This means that the tunnel is going to be very much delayed and much more expensive and who will pick up the bill? It will be the Icelandic home owners whose electricity bills will soar in cost.

    What this shows is not only did Impregilo or Landsvirkjun not carry out a full environmental impact assessment, they also did not carry out a full geological survey.

    The poor Icelandic people will be paying for this blunder for many
    many years, you have my sympathy and support.

    Kind regards,


  11. eugenia says:

    A lot of people are from all over the world.
    Your comment sounds nationalistic and personally I think it’s quiete narrow minded to think that nature only belongs to one country.
    Nature belongs to all, and if the project in Iceland goes along, it will have an impact on global warming which has an impact on everyone, no matter where you are from.
    People involved in these protests are trying to do something positive and are working very hard and on a voluntary basis!!!!


  12. Steffi says:

    can’t we try to save at least ONE place on this earth?

    i have been following the discussion about the building of the aluminium smelter in iceland for a little while and as much as it MIGHT offer job perspectives and progress for iceland’s economy i do not see a reason to support this project.

    from a foreign view (as i am not an icelander) i must say that to me iceland has always been THE country because it seemed one of the last natural paradises on this planet. it is a piece of earth that is still growing…like a child. so why would anyone want to poison it? if we continue being selfish and rob all the goods from nature what is there left for following generations? we cannot be as narrowminded as to only think of ourselves and maybe 20 years ahead…

    in contrast to the majority of other countries all over the world iceland is one place where environmental catastrophes can still be prevented instead. due to the progress in industries, science etc many countries have paid high prices to reduce pollution and destruction of whole landscapes. and there is no way to recreate the beauty that has been lost so far. don’t let this happen to iceland!

    also iceland’s importance in terms of tourism is constantly growing and its greatest thing to offer to the visitors is its incredible and breathtaking nature. what will be there to experience for them once there are smelters everywhere that destroy the peace and beauty?

    and what about the icelanders themselves? from my experience they adore to leave the city at the weekends and spend their time close to nature and with it. how can it be that there are still those who do not see what damage they will do to the country(side)?

    i wish that the prostest gathering in july and the prostest in general will make people more aware of the fatal consequences a smelter would bring. and i wish to be able to come back to iceland and enjoy its beauty, peace and open space as i have done before knowing it will be there for a long long time.

  13. Skroll says:

    I have – with increasing concern and interest – followed some of the discussions on this site, as well as other places.

    I have been at Karahnjukar. Not just at the tourist-spot, but in the tunnels, at the site, in the buildings.
    I must admit, that the sheer size left me dumbfounded. Nature wise I can understand why so many people protest against the flodding etc. and I cannot understand why anybody (sane) would say YES to this in the first place.

    This being said I must say… I feel there is nothing left to do about the dam. The cost is already sky high and I do not think anybody dare to stop that part of the project. Only a minor catastrophe could probably stop the powerplant from getting the water it needs.

    I think the main focus should be on the aluminium plant for now and henceforth. THAT is the main killer. If that is stopped, the dam and powerplant is of no use and it will have a huge effect on… people, economy, government and everybody involved.

    It may be, that I do not (yet) understand all aspects of this, but I am continuously looking into it. If you have links to ressources I should know about, please let me know. (And I do read Icelandic…)

  14. Anonymous says:

    What a marvelous site. We are very impressed.

    There are many of us in Iceland who do not participate directly in this fight – and a fight it is – but we are grateful to those who do.

    So please, keep up the good work.

    Helga, Iceland

    [Submited by e-mail. Ed.]

  15. Anonymous says:

    Entirely wrong is the only way to describe this.

    From all the photography I have seen of Iceland, I was blown away. So amazed by the beauty of it all that I was considering moving to Iceland around 2010, mainly because of the natural beauty.

    I would completely change my mind if these plans are taken into full effect, there aren’t many places like Iceland – it truly is a work of art. It’s just enough to show you the stunning things the Earth can produce. That is one thing I feel nobody should be able to take away.

    Please don’t destroy one of the only beautiful countries left with so much to offer. It would destroy many people who sit looking at pictures late at night wishing for a place that one day they can call their home.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Our band has written a song about Iceland .. If you’d like to hear it or use it for the cause…


  17. Krummi says:

    You talk about the facts, Eric, but the facts are plentyfull on this website and elsewhere and they all show that this stupid project is NOT creating jobs for Icelanders. In fact 90% of the workers building the dam are cheap foreign labour who are treated worse than animals by Impregilo and the greedy Icelanders.

    It is the same with the Bechtel built ALCOA smelter. Polish workers are building the smelter!

    ALCOA have had to announce, when it became apparent that Icelanders do NOT want to work in the smelter once it is built, that they will hire FOREIGN WORKERS to work in the smelter.

    Eric, get your facts right, otherwise you are full of shit!

  18. savitri d says:

    Heavy Industry in Iceland must be stopped. Iceland is considered the most developed nation in the world, with the highest life expectancy and the lowest unemployment. There is a chronic labor shortage in Iceland, and an energy surplus. These aluminum companies are heavily subsidized and will bring nothing but heartache to Iceland. They will destroy some of the last pristine wilderness in Europe and forever tarnish Iceland’s international reputation as a progressive, environmentally advanced nation. People of Iceland! Resist! Tell your government to stop making deals with corporations that have no loyalty whatsoever to Iceland or its people, the activists who come there to work on this campaign are for more concerned for your well being than the corporations you defend. Saving Iceland- we send solidarity from New York City. You are heroes.

  19. marylou says:

    i write from switzerland, beautiful country they say! plenty of tourist everywhere and i can tell you it once started like in iceland, for the economic developpment, only one road then another, there is no place now where you can walk more than 10 minutes without seeing a hightension tower, a road. everything is under “human” control, nature in switzerland doen’t exist anymore, it is still beautiful ok, but it has not what you still have in icland, those places where we don’t see the traces of man, where nature is real and alive.
    This beauty has no price and once it’s over, it’s over, you can’t buy it back.
    don’t let your government destroy the most you have for money!!!

    Come, see, look pictures, switzerland is the result of tourism industry, nothing is natural, ok it’s nice but it has lost its authenticity.

    you still have it in Icland! Take care of it, please!!! there are so few places in the world like this!

    Don’t be blinded by money

  20. katy says:

    As a citizen of planet Earth I am amazed that any person would sanction this destruction and irretrievable mess without good cause.

  21. […] C.) Fyrir frekari upplýsingar um áætlaðar stóriðjuframkvæmdir á Íslandi, sjá: https://www.savingiceland.org/sos […]