by Jaap Krater
This year Iceland has seen it's third summer of direct action against
heavy industry and large dams. In a much disputed master-plan, all
the glacial rivers and geothermal potential of the largest wilderness
of Europe would be harnessed for aluminium production. Activists from
around the world gathered to protect Europe's largest remaining
wilderness and oppose aluminium corporations.
Icelanders were joined by activists from Africa, South and North
America and Europe for an international conference 'Global
consequences of heavy industry and large dams' organized by Saving
Iceland. "Progress is painted by some as huge projects, large scale
development. In all our countries, these have become disasters,
socially, ecologically and economically. Progress is a plenitude of
small solutions. We should let a thousand flowers bloom," states a
declaration from the conference, formulated by consensus by participants.
The conference looked at the effects of large dams on ecosystems,
climate and communities, on the role of aluminium in the arms
industry and military and on 'green-washing' strategies of large
corporations. Activists recognized the remarkable similarities in
corporate strategies between their different countries and
continents, on how communities and governments are manipulated and
environmental impacts covered up. A next activist conference is
intended in Trinidad and Tobago, where local communities oppose an
ALCOA aluminium smelter. Other campaigns that were presented included
the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (Movement of Dam Affected
People, Brazil), Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement,
The resistance against heavy industry and large dams in Iceland has
heated up, and not just because of global warming. Activists set up
camp in Mosfellsheiði, about ten miles north of Reykjavik. A dam was
built in front of the prime minister's office and Reverend Billy of
the Church of Stop Shopping held a sermon in Reykjavik's largest
mall, connecting heavy industry to consumerism. A public meeting was
held with the people of Thorlakshöfn (named as a site for two new
aluminum smelters) and activists from anti-heavy industry struggles
in South Africa and Trinidad.
On July 14th, Bastille-day, around a hundred people raved all over
Reykjavik's ring road in a carnaval against heavy industry. Iceland's
first Reclaim the Streets began cheerfully as Saving Iceland ran onto
Reykjavik's western ring. A clown army danced to the beats down into
the city centre. This Rave Against the Machine was organized by
Saving Iceland to "reclaim our public space, space to be free to
dance, to be free from dreary industrial car culture and to voice a
sound of festival in opposition to the grim industrialisation plans
When the rave reached Reykjavik's town center, police blocked the
road and a stand-off ensued. After an hour police attacked the raving
protestors and they were all to happy to use all the techniques they
learned from training with American Swat-teams such as foot-cuffing.
Youtube removed video's of police brutality without explanation,
possibly on request of the Icelandic government.
On Wednesday the 18th, Saving Iceland closed the supply road to
Century Aluminum's Grundartangi Smelter and the Icelandic Alloys
steel factory. Two days later, Reykjavik Energy was invaded and a
huge banner was raised accusing the electricity company of supplying
energy to war-mongering corporations ALCAN-RioTinto and Century-
RUSAL. Reykjavik Council's building had a banner drop two days later,
as they own the energy corporation.
In the meanwhile the Icelandic consulate in Edinburgh, Scotland was
painted red under the slogan 'Iceland Bleeds', and locks were glued.
The next week, Saving Iceland blocked the gates of RioTinto-Alcan's
Straumsvik smelter in Hafnarfjordur.
Earlier protests against Alcan have been successful. Recently, in
Kashipur, Northeast India, Alcan had to give up it’s participation in
a bauxite mine because of protests against their human rights
violations and environmental devestation. Alcan has been accused of
cultural genocide in Kashipur, because mining and dams have already
displaced 150.000 mainly tribal people there.
In Iceland, the people of Hafnafjordur have stopped the expansion of
Straumsvik in a referendum, but the mayor of Hafnafjordur and Alcan
are hinting at expanding th smelter anyway, saying that the
referendum only applied to a planning permission of a certain spot by
the existing factory and that it could not stop the smelter expansion
being built on a landfill on the other side of the factory. Locals
continue to protest these plans and dropped banner's stating 'No
means no' and
'Nietsche killed god, Ludvik [the mayor] killed democracy'.
Saving Iceland then invaded Reykjavik Energy's construction site for
expanding the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant in Hengill. People
locked themselves onto machinery, climbed a giant crane and blockaded
the entrance roads. The action must have been succesful, as Reykjavik
Energy has announced to sue the protestors for the damages caused by
stopping work on the site.
Finally, the Earth Liberation Front struck Rio Tinto in England in
"In the early hours of 30/07/07, saboteurs struck at Smurfit Kappa, a
plastics factory owned by Rio Tinto Alcan in Chelmsford, Essex. The
gates were locked shut, office doors and loading bays were sabotaged
with glue and a message left painted on the wall. Vehicles belonging
to Rio Tinto were also sabotaged," says the ELF's statement.
Myths around Geothermal Power
The goal of enlarging Hellisheidi power plant is to meet industries
demands of energy, states the Environmental Impact Assessment,
particularly the Century expansion at Grundartangi and possible new
ALCAN and Century plants at Straumsvik and Helguvik. The expansion of
the Alcan smelter in Hafnarfjordur has been rejected by referendum,
and other smelter projects in the south west are not definite. The
current Icelandic government says to oppose more smelters, but
Hellisheidi is still being expanded. Once the expansion is completed,
this will force Iceland into more smelters because the electricity
needs to be sold to get investments back. In the mean time, farmers
pay twice as much for electricity as Century does.
The expansion of the Hellesheidi power plant in Hengill is itself not
as green as Reykjavik Energy suggests. Hot and toxic waste water is
either disposed of by pumping it back into the borehole, commonly
increasing the frequency of earthquakes in this very active fault
zone, or it is pumped untreated into streams and lakes, wiping out
valuable ecosystems as treatment is considered too expensive. The
Northern end of lake Thingvallavatn is already biologically dead in
parts due to wastewater pumping and must be protected from more
damage. Extraction of underground fluids leads to changes in
groundwater movements, commonly including drying of unique hot
springs and geysers and pollution of pure subsurface spring water.
Four endangered bird species are negatively affected: the falcon,
greylag goose, harlequin duck and raven.
ALCOA, Alcan/RioTinto, Norsk Hydro and Century/Rusal are all scheming
for new smelters in Iceland. Century Aluminum, a part of the recently
formed Russian-Swiss RUSAL/ Glencore/SUAL conglomorate, want to build
a second smelter in Iceland in Helguvik with a projected capacity of
at least 250.000 metric tons per annum. The planned site is designed
to accommodate further expansion. Grundartangi has this year been
extended to 260.000 mtpa. Currently, an environmental impact
assessment is under review for the Helguvik smelter, produced by the
construction consultants HRV (Honnun/Rafhonnun/VST). HRV are the
aluminium industry's foremost construction engineers and, with
Bechtel and Impregilo, have built the Alcoa smelter in the east.
It is absurd that an engineering company with a vested interest in
the smelter construction could be considered to produce an objective
impact assessment. The document makes idiotic claims, such as that
pollution is really not a problem because Helguvik is such a windy
place that the pollution will just blow away.
This smelter will demand new geothermal power plants at Seltún,
Sandfell, Austurengjar and Trölladyngju on the Reykjanes peninsula
(south of Reykjavik), in addition to the Hengill area which has
already been seriously damaged by Reykjavik Energy at Hellisheidi.
The impact assessment does not take these into account, nor the
impact of the huge amount of power lines and pylons required. Also,
the recquired capacity exceeds the natural capactity of the
geothermal spots, and they will cool down in three to four decades.
Century admits it wants the site to expand further in the next
decades. So it is obvious that this smelter will not just ruin
Reykjanes but also need additional hydropower.
The impact procedure seems to be completely irrelevant anyway, since
the company has completed an equity offering worth $360 million to be
deployed for partly financing the construction of the Helguvik
smelter project. This indicates that Century already has high level
assurances that the project is to continue no matter what. This
completely contradicts the claims of the new government of Iceland
that it is opposed to new smelter projects.
Expansion of Icelandic Alloys and aluminium smelters considerably
contribute to Iceland 's greenhouse emissions. If there are no
further expansions of heavy industry beyond Grundartangi and ALCOA
Fjardaal (the new smelter in the east), Iceland will emit 38% more
greenhouse gases than in 1990. If other expansion plans continue,
levels would rise to an incredible 63% above 1990 levels..
"This shows that all the talk about green energy from hydro and
geothermal is, in reality, a lie. Icelanders have to rise up against
these transnational corporations," says Saving Iceland.
Aluminium = War
One effect of this year's actions has been to expose the dubious role
of aluminum companies in the arms industry. Much of the aluminium
produced goes directly to the war efforts of the US, Russia and
others. Alumium is the single most important bulk metal for modern
warfare. It is the most important bulk metal for missiles, tanks,
fighter planes, and nuclear weapons. "It is as if Iceland is
organizing a competition which company - ALCOA, Alcan/RioTinto or
Century/RUSAL - has committed the most human rights and environmental
crimes to decide who to sell energy," says Saving Iceland.
ALCOA's links to the US's military-industrial complex is well known.
But until now Century and Alcan have managed to stay out of the picture.
Century is a subsidiary of Glencore, which is well known for shady
deals with apartheid South Africa, Communist Russia, Iran, and Iraq
under Saddam Hussein". Glencore has merged with RUSAL, making the
largest aluminium company in the world. RUSAL, as the main aluminium
supplier of the Russian military, of course contributes directly to
the war in Chechnya, where at least 35.000 civilians have been
killed, with bombs and missiles made of aluminium. Glencore are also
known to have recently massacred Wayuu Indians and local farmers
in Colombia for mine expansion.
RioTinto-Alcan's aluminium alloys are sold for a whole range of
military purposes. Alcan is the main supplier for European Aerospace
and Defense and Space, producer of military helicopters, military
satellites, the Eurofighter Tycoon, Mirage F1, EF18 Hornet and other
jets. EADS is the world's leading producer of missiles. Deals made
between the EADS and Alcan are presented as between Airbus and Alcan,
to cloud the military involvement; it is common for all aluminium
companies to hide their 'defense' products under the title
'aerospace'. But at the same time, military products need to be
marketed, so images of fighter jets are displayed on Alcan
Aerospace's website. Alcan also supplies to arms-manufacturer's
Boeing (US) and Dassault (France).
RioTinto-Alcan has now signed a letter of intent with the Govt. of
Cameroon to expand the existing Alucam smelter with 150.000 Mtpy, and
build a new 150.000 Mtpy smelter. The Lom Pangar Dam, to be
constructed by the government, would power this. Alcan have a large
number of projects planned Africa - their "greenfield project
pipeline" includes Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar and South
Africa. 'Greenfield' means that untouched nature will be destroyed
for the mines, infrastructure, smelters, and dams that would power them.
Alcan was active in apartheid South Africa between 1949-1986. Now
they want to come back and develop a new smelter in the near zero-tax
'Coega Development Zone' near Port Elizabeth, powered by coal and
nuclear delivered by Eskom, one of the worlds largest electricity
companies. "Thirty percent of the poor communities of South Africa
don't have electricity, and now that will be going straight to
Alcan," says Lerato Maregele, a S-African activist visiting Iceland.
Elkom is a 'sister-company' of Iceland's national power company
Landsvirkjun. Landsvirkun want to be part of this deal and more
generally branch out to Africa, in a joint operation with Iceland's
national bank Landsbankinn. Landsvirkjun can be expected to try and
sell their expertise to Eskom's various hydroprojects in Mozambiqu,
Uganda and Congo. They will try to be part of damming the Congo
river, a project twice the size of China's Three Gorges, that will
have a devastating effect on the central African rainforest.
In the meanwhile, Alcoa are planning seven new dams in the Amazon
rainforest to power aluminium smelters.
Kick them out!
So aluminium corporations are posing a massive threat to wildlife,
wilderness and people around the world. In Iceland, people have seen
the destruction wrought by the Karahnjukar dam, and are more and more
hesitant about bringing more heavy industry into the country.
Stopping Alcoa, Alcan-RioTinto and Century-Rusal in Iceland will be a
major slap in their faces, and it is possible definitely possible to
win the struggle in Iceland if Icelanders keep on receiving
international support and solidarity. More and more a global network
against heavy industry is forming and kicking them out of Iceland can
be a first step to kicking these evil bastards off the planet.