Foreign Minister Valgerður Sverrisdóttir this week backed a proposal to build a new aluminium smelter near Husavik in North Iceland.
Alcoa, the aluminium company behind the building of the controversial aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland, is exploring the possibility of building a further smelter at Bakki, just north of Husavik. Sverrisdóttir said it was logical to use the energy in the area for an industry that requires a lot of energy. The geothermal energy field north of Myvatn would be sufficient to supply the power needed at Husavik. Landsvirkjun, the national power company, together with Alcoa, are discussing the possibility of increasing the capacity of nine power plants in North Iceland for a future smelter there.
Managing Director of the local employment development association, Tryggvi Finnsson, said, “The community here is not sustainable as it is. Inhabitants are decreasing while the average age is increasing. To reverse this development it is best to harness the natural resources the region has to offer.” Since 1990 there has been a 13% decrease in population in Husavik, particularly in the 20-34 age range, a problem which is facing most areas outside Reykjavik.Finnsson said people were optimistic a smelter would be constructed in the area. “The only thing people worry about is the political debate in society.” The local representative of the Left-Green party, Ásbjörn Björgvinsson, said the Left-Greens were completely against the idea of an aluminium smelter in the area, “We worry a smelter might harm other development in the area.” Husavik has become the whale watching centre of the North due to the different species of whale that swim close to the coast. A number of tourist shops haven opened up and job numbers have been growing recently due to the growing numbers of visitors.
The Foreign Minister also claimed the construction of a smelter at Husavik would not harm the environment. However, Alcoa´s comparison study of sites from January 2006 concluded that a smelter at Husavik would remove a “considerable amount of (birds‘) nesting ground“ and have an impact on 40-110 ha of wetland. The plant would be clearly visible to inhabitants and visitors in the countryside to the north of the area but hidden from Husavik and visitors arriving from the South.
Husavik was also considered the riskiest of three possible sites in Northern Iceland in relation to the magnitude of earthquakes. The other sites under consideration are Brimnes in Skagafjörður and Dysnes in Eyjafjörður. Further information can be found at www.alcoa.com/iceland/en/alcoa_iceland/smelter.asp