Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for April, 2014

Geothermal plant in Iceland in danger of losing its licence

Iceland’s Hellisheidi geothermal power plant is in danger of losing its operating licence because from July 1 this year, hydrogen sulphide (H2S) concentrations may never exceed 50 micrograms per cubic metre over a 24-hour period – and they probably will.

Since 2010, levels have been allowed to exceed the maximum level 5 times a year.

The operators of the Hellisheidi plant, Orkuveita Reykjavikur, have applied for a 5-year extension but it is by no means certain that they will receive one. Various institutions and health authorities have given their opinion, which ranges from no extension being granted to a 2-year extension being granted. The 5-times-a-year limit is already exceeded at a Waldorf preschool and primary school located midway between Reykjavik and the power station. The local newspaper for the city, simply called  Reykjavik  (and which happens to be edited by a former colleague of mine, Ingimar Karl Helgason) covers the issue in detail in its current issue and quotes the Environment Agency as saying: “Chemical emissions from large geothermal plants are usually very high and can be in the air, soil, surface water, groundwater, sea and deep underground. The sulphur emissions from the Hellisheidi plant are, for instance, greater than the emissions from the Alcoa Fjardaál plant [the East Iceland aluminium plant] measured in sulphur equivalent units.” The EA want the plant to be granted a 2-year extension, which will give the operators time to evaluate the results of their Sulfix project which involves injecting the sulphur deep into the ground.

I’m a member of the Icelandic natural scientists association and they have a paper in the current issue of their journal which covers the H2S issue and the health effects arising from it. It’s an interesting issue because little is known about H2S.

If anyone is interested in an article that looks deeper into this issue, let me know.


Iceland’s whaling under pressure again

Once again, Iceland’s whaling activities have made it the focus of anti-whaling activists. Last month, a number of environmental and animal welfare groups calling themselves Whales Need Us highlighted the links between fishing company HB Grandi and its subsidiaries with the whaling company Hvalur, run by Kristjan Loftsson who is also one of the owners of HB Grandi and Chair of the HB Grandi Board of Governors. Subsequently, some companies decided to stop buying fish from HB Grandi or from wholesalers who buy fish from that company.

The campaign also asked Barack Obama to make use of the Pelly Amendment because Iceland’s sale of fin whale products outside of Iceland (they are not sold within Iceland) contravenes the international CITES agreement. Last week, Obama stated that he WOULD invoke the Pelly Amendment and outlined eight measures to be taken. Although these measures are diplomatic rather than trade sanctions, one of them involves compiling a report in six month’s time on the effectiveness of the measures taken.

Coincidentally, a group of eight Opposition MPs in Iceland have put forth a parliamentary proposal to compile a report into the economic and trade consequences of hunting both fin whales and minke whales.

I have written an article about this topic for Inter Press Service, but at the time of writing it hasn’t yet appeared. Update: It’s just appeared, April 14, here.

Meanwhile, after Japan lost the court case about “scientific” whaling in the Southern Ocean off Australia, animal rights group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said they would probably turn their attention to other whaling countries – Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

And Hvalur has just sent 2,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat directly to Japan on the freight ship Alma, after having been banned last year from entering European ports. Earlier this year, Hvalur surreptitiously tried sending its whale meat to a Canadian port, Halifax, then sending it by train to Vancouver on the other side of the country and sending it on to Japan from there. This worked, but consequently caused an uproar in Canada so will not be tried again.

As a journalist, I can say that getting information from Hvalur staff is virtually impossible, and any information obtained is likely to be in the form of one-word answers. The company is obviously getting more and more paranoid, as they have now removed their phone numbers from the Internet listing of Icelandic phone numbers, so now the only information that appears is the whaling station address in Hvalfjordur. Luckily for me, their phone numbers still exist in the printed telephone directory (and I have copied them to my address book).