Missing in Iceland: Nuclear Energy - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Missing in Iceland: Nuclear Energy

Missing in Iceland: Nuclear Energy

Published October 5, 2017

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Most people are familiar with the fact that Iceland’s electricity comes from hydropower and, to a lesser extent, geothermal energy. This means that there are no nuclear power plants in Iceland. Further, even though Iceland is a NATO country, no nuclear weapons are kept here.

As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iceland has been an officially recognised non-nuclear weapons state since 1970. However, National Security Archive documents revealed last year that, in the 1950s, the United States did briefly consider housing nuclear weapons in Keflavík and just not telling the Icelandic government about it. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, as the US ambassador to Iceland at the time pointed out that if Iceland ever caught wind of the weapons, they would likely leave NATO. The idea was scrapped (as far as we know).

Where nuclear energy is considered, General Electric did once court Iceland—again, in the 1950s—with the idea of building a smaller nuclear power plant in the Westman Islands. This matter was actually seriously explored, but for some reason it never really gained ground, and by 1959 the idea had fizzled out.

As Iceland has never had to use petroleum fuel for electricity in any great quantities (well, unless you count the thousands of tonnes of coal used in aluminium smelters, but that’s another topic), the usefulness of nuclear energy to Iceland has always been minimal at best. Whatever your feelings about nuclear power, or nuclear weapons, the splitting of atoms for good or war is something else that remains missing in Iceland.


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