Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for May, 2015

Silicor Materials plant controversial

The proposed solar silicon plant in Grundartangi, West Iceland, is proving controversial. The plant will be located on the north side of Hvalfjordur fjord, within the dilution area of the existing Elkem ferro-silicon plant and Century aluminium factory. The Planning Agency decided it did not need to be subject to an EIA but recently various individuals, municipalities and campaigning groups have spoken out about it and expressed distrust in the proposed development. Umhverfisvaktin have, for instance, said that Silicor Materials are intending to use a production method that has only been used on a small scale up till now and there is no guarantee that the method will work flawlessly in Grundartangi, where production is intended to be a lot more. Musician Bubbi Morthens, who lives near the south side of the fjord, has expressed his distrust in the matter, while at a meeting organised by the Planning Agency on environmental impact assessment a local authority representative pointed out that the plant would employ 460 staff and the fact that they would all need to be housed somewhere (presumably in new developments) is a matter of concern in itself.

The company say that some of the staff will be Icelandic, some foreign. Unemployment in the local area is negligible, so staff will have to move to the area.

More fin whale meat from Iceland destined for Japan

Last year, Kristjan Loftsson from the whaling company Hvalur sent whale meat to Japan on a boat called Alma. This year he’s using a boat called Winter Bay, which is currently docked at a harbour just outside Reykjavik with 1700 tonnes of fin whale meat on board – all the meat from the whaling season last year. But the boat’s gears are broken, so it may be a while before it sets sail.

The boat is registered in St Kitts and Nevis and its destination is listed as Luanda, the capital of Angola. This site will allow you to track the ship on its travels. The journey made by Alma last year was somewhat circuitous as it avoided routes and ports where it was likely to face opposition. This year’s voyage is also likely to be somewhat different to the norm.

The Icelandic branch of IFAW has condemned the shipment, as has IFAW at an international level.

UPDATE: The ship set sail today, June 4. Its first stop will be Ghana.


Sea Shepherd to concentrate on Nordic countries this year

Last week, conservation organization Sea Shepherd said that they would be concentrating their actions this summer on the Nordic countries: the Faroe islands, Iceland and Norway. Now they say they will primarily be concentrating on the Faroe islands, like last year when they also produced a short film about the situation there. However, they will be keeping an eye on the whaling activities of Iceland and Norway.

The Dutch coordinator of the actions, Alex Cornelissen, says they are only against one person in Iceland: Kristjan Loftsson, the person behind the fin whale hunting.

They appear not to be interested in the hunting of minke whales, which is likely to begin very soon. But the minke whales don’t need Sea Shepherd to protect them at the moment – the vets from Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority are on strike, and they are needed to take the temperature of the meat before it can be processed. Minke whaling cannot start until the vets go back to work.

UPDATE, June 4: It now appears that two minke whales have now been caught, on the premise that the strike by vets at the Food and Veterinary Authority would end (it hasn’t). The meat of the second whale is being kept in the freezer, while meat of the first whale was destroyed.

Environmental effects of silicon metal manufacturing plants

Until recently I was taken in by the propaganda that silicon metal manufacturing plants were relatively benign and produced metal that would be used for solar panels and the like. But having now read an environmental impact assessment for the proposed Thorsil plant in Helguvik, I have now changed my mind. They pollute. And in Helguvik, on the southwest tip of Iceland near its international airport, there will not be just one silicon metal plant but two, coupled with a second Nordural aluminium smelter if that ever gets finished (which I doubt). There is also a waste incinerator nearby and various other industries that pollute to a greater or lesser extent.

The Thorsil EIA admits that pollutant levels will sometimes exceed the limit values set in regulations, but says this will happen within the “dilution area”, where concentrations are expected and allowed to be higher. But what they appear not to have done and should have is to carry out a GIS (Geographical Information System) and overlay what is actually within the dilution area and the dilution area together. The northernmost edge of the local town of Reykjanesbaer is less than 1.5 km from the plant. And the local horse-owners are up in arms because the local stabling area (and summer pasture for horses) is within the dilution area (1 km from the plant), and they are concerned because of what happened to horses just outside the dilution zone of the Century/Nordural aluminium smelter in Grundartangi, West Iceland. Here is a link to the protest by horse owners and locals who descended on the local town hall to demand a local referendum about the influx of polluting industry in Helguvik. The main pollutant of concern is said to be sulphur dioxide, SO2.

Silicor Materials are also planning a solar silicon plant up at Grundartangi where the Nordural aluminium smelter and Elkem ferrosilicon plant are based. The Planning Agency said that its environmental effects would be negligible as it is not supposed to release sulphur dioxide or fluorides, and so it would not need an EIA performed on it. But not everyone is in agreement. The local conservation group, Umhverfisvaktin, is up in arms. Grundartangi does not need any more polluting industry either.