Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for November, 2018

Former United Silicon smelter rears its ugly head again

At a packed residents’ meeting last night over the future of the silicon metal plant in Helguvik formerly owned by United Silicon, Thordur Thordarson from Stakksberg said, in  response to a question about whether the thought had ever occurred to them to simply dismantle the plant, “Too much money has been spent on the silicon metal smelter already. If we abandon the aim of resurrecting the plant, it would be inexcusable handling of money.”

But the local campaigning group ASH say that they don’t want it to reopen.

Stakksberg is the company set up by Arion Bank to deal with the mess left by United Silicon. They intend to sell the plant when the extensive repairs and modifications have been completed. They say that the plant should be operational by 2020.

The meeting was called at two days’ notice. In the intervening period, considerable media attention was directed at the dormant plant, and the other silicon plant designed to be adjacent to the (Stakksberg) plant. The latter plant, which would be operated by Thorsil, had virtually disappeared off the drawing board as nothing had been heard about it for about two years – until someone from the local council said that the two silicon metal smelters would rescue Helguvik harbour.

The meeting, which lasted for almost three hours, consisted of explanations by Thordarson followed by powerpoint presentations by a Verkis engineer and a consultant from Norwegian firm Multiconsult. The first EIA for the Stakksberg/United Silicon plant was ostensibly prepared by Verkis, while Multiconsult were brought in last year to advise on problems – apparently, seven silicon metal smelters operate smoothly in Norway (though, unbeknown to the Multiconsult engineer, there appear to be health problems such as silicosis afflicting the workers).

Thordarson said that the “most able specialists” were advising Stakksberg. Note that United Silicon also said they had experts on hand to deal with any problems, and look what happened there.

Two of us brought up the matter of PCC Bakki, whose silicon smelter has been beset by problems and where start-up has not been easy, to say the least. Thordarson said he was not aware of the situation there, but “must look into it”. Unbelievable!!!

Other issues were brought up during question time. If Thorsil gets to operate with four furnaces and Stakksberg with four, how will anyone know which smelter is to blame if pollution levels rise sky high? No one knew the answer.

The Multiconsult person said that routine maintenance would mean that the furnaces would be shut down sometimes. Each time a furnace is restarted, there is the risk of burning odours. Multiply that by four (or eight) and there could be constant problems. One of the additions to the plant will be an emergency smoke stack that will operate during start-up. Some people are not convinced that this will make a difference.

Outside of the meeting, ASH is preparing a group lawsuit to call for a citizen’s referendum to try and stop the plant from becoming operational again.

A scoping document (in Icelandic) for a fresh EIA has been put forward and can be seen here.



NATO in Reykjavik

Iceland has recently been the centre of various military activities, despite it not having a military of its own.

Unfortunately, it is a member of NATO, and it was for that reason that military vessels landed in Reykjavik with almost 6,000 marines and the like, who took part in military exercises under the umbrella of “Trident Juncture”. Some attended a planning meeting for the main Trident Juncture exercises that have been based in Norway. I wrote about it here.

The ideas was to allow the marines to practise under winter conditions. Ironically, the first exercise they were supposed to do, which involved landing at a cove south of Keflavik airport and gallivanting around fields, was called off because the ships were too far from land – due to bad weather conditions!

But they did manage to get to the fragile Thjorsardalur nature reserve area, where thousands of birch trees have been planted over the last 15 years or so. There, they practised setting up and dismantling tents in windy weather, as well as running in groups from A to B and back again – naturally without looking to see where they were going (trees grow slowly there).



Activists from the Campaign Against Militarism also went to Thjorsardalur, ostensibly to study the nature and history of the area though banners happened to be put on the bus as well.

A week after the military left, NATO met for two days in Reykjavik to discuss weapons of mass destruction and disarmament. I was allowed to be present at the start of the meeting, as press, and attempted to get William Alberque from NATO to answer some rather pointing questions, such as “Given that this was a conference on weapons of mass destruction, and given increasing tension between the USA and Russia – and indeed between the USA and other countries – is it not appropriate for NATO member states to sign and ratify the Treaty for Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons?”, but although he was very welcoming at the meetings, he never replied despite frequent reminders.

Not to be forgotten, the Campaign Against Militarism also organized a historical display with snippets about NATO in front of the Harpa concert hall and conference centre in the centre of town (NATO were meeting at a hotel a few km from the city centre).


On the second day of the NATO meeting there was also a side event that consisted of a disarmament seminar entitled ‘Practical Approaches to Disarmament in Uncertain Times”. A number of NATO personnel took part in this too, but so did Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm from ICAN and Tytti Eräsö from SIPRI. I wrote about this too, here.