The problems with the United Silicon smelter in southwest Iceland are unlikely to be solved immediately, the company’s CEO Helgi Thorhallsson told a meeting on Wednesday. The problem appears to be with the smoke filters, he said, which are too small and thus inadequate. It will take up to five months to get a replacement and set it up, while it could take two years or more for the plant to function normally. He also said that the computer equipment is much more complex than it was when he was in charge of a smelter once before. Note that this is the first time that Thorhallsson has been present at the start-up of a plant.
A local resident asked the meeting: “How on earth can anyone think of putting such industry so close to a residential area? … We’re not experimental animals.” The plant is just over one km from the nearest houses.
The divisional head of the pollution team at the Environment Agency, Sigrun Agustsdottir, puts some of the disgruntlement by residents down to the residents themselves, who should have been aware during the planning stage that pollution could result from the plant. They should have protested at the time, she says.
No dilution zone was needed because silicon plants don’t emit fluorides, and in general pollution from the plant was expected to be minimal. She concedes that perhaps putting heavy industry close to a residential area is maybe something that should be reconsidered in future.
The high pollution levels I blogged about recently turned out to be skewed due to sampling error and should not be taken seriously. The council members who had been calling for he plant’s closure withdrew their demand. The constituents of the burning odour have not yet been analysed.
The United Silicon fiasco has had a number of consequences, however. At the meeting on Wednesday, the council decided not to allocate any more polluting heavy industry to the site above that which has already been allocated. The other two industries are Century Aluminium, which has now decided not to continue building its aluminium smelter, and Thorsil, which intends to build a silicon smelter opposite that of United Silicon. However, funding of the Thorsil plant is now virtually back to square one: potential investors point to the problems with United Silicon and the fact that the licence for that plant has twice been appealed, and are now dragging their feet in committing themselves to funding. In October, funding was almost secure.
The supposedly non-polluting Silicor Materials plant in Grundartangi, West Iceland, has also had funding problems and have been given until September to pay the harbour dues that they owe. I get the feeling that the plant will never get built – people and funders are becoming increasingly sceptical of heavy industry in Iceland.
The Environment Agency has said that similar problems cannot be excluded for Thorsil and the PCC silicon plant in north Iceland, which is currently under construction.