Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for July, 2017

Arbitration a headache for United Silicon

United Silicon started up its silicon metal furnace last night, with accompanying smells, for the first time since the second fire at the plant, which happened on July 18.

Meanwhile, the company is suffering another nightmare, this time financial. Arbitration dictated last week that the company had to pay a billion kronur (about €8.25 million, $9.7 million) to the building contractor ÍAV, and the money has to be paid this week. They are desperately trying to find a way to get shareholders to put up the money. Revenue is in short supply, as of course they couldn’t produce any silicon when the plant was shut down, in addition to which I suspect they’ve had to pay engineering companies a fortune to find out what’s been going wrong with the smelter.

A group opposed to the plant, with the initials ASH in Icelandic, have written a letter to some of the investors, asking whether they really want to support the United Silicon plant which has had so many problems. They say that smoke usually surrounds the plant, and is carried to residents of nearby municipalities depending on the wind direction.


Inconclusive report on United Silicon problems

An interim report from MultiConsult, the firm that has been analysing the problems with the United Silicon plant in Helguvik, has been sent to Iceland’s Environment Agency as well as to United Silicon.  The report states: “Based on the results from the sampling and further analyses of the samples, we conclude that there are no harmful compounds released in concentrations and quantities that should in any way be harmful to the public near the plant.” Which should be reassuring.

However, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), which MultiConsult recruited to carry out air pollution measurements, also detected formaldehyde and organic aldehydes, but the methods they used to analyse pollutants from the plant do not measure concentrations of these substances. Although they have now been asked to develop methods to detect these substances (which might be responsible for the odours that local residents have complained about), results will probably not be available until October, as NILA basically shuts down for the whole of July.

The report states:

As far as NILU and Multiconsult know, neither formaldehyde nor organic aldehydes are routinely tested in the emissions from similar smelters in Norway and is not regarded as a problem by the industry and the authorities. We see no indications that the potential emission of these compounds into the surroundings should be present in significant concentrations, or could cause any harmful effects. Increased
concentrations, lasting for short periods and brought on by e.g. startups, shutdowns or other operational disturbances, could however possibly be felt as irritant in the surrounding area.
But the United Silicon plant is unusual in that it has been emitting irritant odours since the beginning, unlike other silicon metal smelters, so it is essential that these substances are tested ASAP – especially as formaldehyde is carcinogenic.
Since the smelter was restarted after the fire, around 250 complaints have been reported to the Environment Agency, and the plant virtually shut down again a few days ago, with accompanying problems.
I tend to think that, in many instances, what the public is NOT told is more important than what we ARE told. That may be a simplification, but I think it still stands.
Update: There was another fire at the plant on Sunday due to “human error”, but both the company itself and various authorities do not seem to be taking the matter seriously. Smoke emanated from the plant , but I don’t know whether anyone has analysed the chemical components of the smoke.

Minke whaling off to a shaky start

I don’t know why they still bother to hunt minke whales in Iceland. The whale meat is sold on the domestic market so the man behind it, Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, doesn’t have to try and freight it overseas amidst opposition. But they have other problems.

Officially they’re allowed to hunt 224 minke whales, or even more because of unused quotas, but since 2013 the actual number caught has ranged from 24 to 46, usually at the lower end of the range. Last year they caught 46, and at the end of March Gunnar Jónsson wrote on the website (hrefna is the Icelandic word for minke whale) that the intention was to catch more this year.

However, unfavourable weather conditions have meant that hunting started later than usual and Jónsson now says that they will catch fewer whales than last year. By June 27, they’d caught 7 whales whereas last year they had caught 23 by the same time. By July 1, the number caught this year had risen to 11. This page from the Directorate of Fisheries seems to have up-to-date info on this.

There appear to be fewer minke whales around Iceland now than there were.

On a related note, the Directorate of Fisheries has held courses on the best ways of killing whales instantly. In 2014, a report by a Norwegian specialist said that 84% of fin whales died instantly, out of a sample of 50. The report is somewhat gruesome as it describes the most efficient ways of killing fin whales – which are not being hunted this year in Iceland due to Japanese bureaucracy (according to Kristján Loftsson, the man behind the killings) or worldwide opposition (according to everyone else). The research body NAMMCO want more research on the best way of killing minke whales to be carried out in 2017 – this will be done in conjunction with the minke whaling season.

Update August 1:  They’ve now caught 17 minke whales, “much less than this time last year” according to Jónsson. Good.