Published October 6, 2006
As the Kárahnjúkar power plant inches closer to completion, opposition against the project increases. The Reykjavík Grapevine has compiled the major events that have shaped the discussion in the last few years.
1999: The government of Iceland, the National Power Company and Norsk Hydro sign a declaration of intent to explore the viability of building an aluminum smelter in Reyðarfjörður, powered by a hydroelectric dam in Fljótsdalur. Norsk Hydro later withdraws their interest out of concern for dam’s environmental effects.
14.2.2000: The group Friends of the Environment start a petition against the planned Fljótsdalur dam project. The petition was signed by 45,000 people by the time it was presented to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Industry.
14.7.2000: The National Power Company presents an assessment of environmental effects of a proposed dam in Fljótsdalur, located at Kárahnjúkar.
29.5.2001: Icelandic Nature Conservation Association (INCA) issues a resolution rejecting plans for the proposed Kárahnjúkar dam, due to the irrevocable environmental damage the project calls for.
2.8.2001: The Icelandic National Planning Agency rules against the Kárahnjúkar dam project. The National Power Company, along with 100 inhabitants of East Iceland appeal the decision. INCA considers the verdict the biggest victory for environmental protection in Iceland.
20.12.2001: Minister for the Environment, Siv Friðleifsdóttir, reverses an earlier verdict by the Icelandic National Planning Agency on the Kárahnjúkar dam project and agrees to the hydroelectric power plant as long as 20 conditions on environmental protection are met.
20.12.2001: Member of Reykjavík City Council, Ólafur F. Magnússon, resigns from the Independence Party, citing the party’s environmental policy and the party’s support for the Kárahnjúkar dam project as reasons.
6.2.2002: Minister of Industry proposes a bill that would allow the damming of Jökulsá á Brú and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal.
15.2.2002: INCA, along with three individuals, sue Siv Friðleifsdóttir, Minister of the Environment and Geir H. Haarde, Minister of Finance on behalf of the Icelandic government, following the earlier decision of the Minister for the Environment to revoke the Icelandic National Planning Agency’s verdict and authorise the Kárahnjúkar dam project.
8.4.2002: Parliament approves a proposal that allows the Kárahnjúkar dam and authorises the National Power Company to build and operate a hydro-electric power plant in Fljótsdalur with 750 MW production capacity and to dam Jökulsá á Brú and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal, the Kárahnjúkar dam. The proposal is approved with 44 votes against nine, while two MPs abstain.
19.4.2002: Representatives from Alcoa study the possibility of building an aluminum smelter in Reyðarfjörður.
11.7.2002: The chairmen of seven Icelandic environmental and nature preservation associations encourage Alcoa to revise plans for the construction of an aluminum smelter in Reyðarfjörður.
19.7.2002: Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, Minister of Industry, G. John Pizzey, vice president of Alcoa Inc. and Friðrik Sophusson, director of the National Power Company, sign a declaration of intent on the continued discussion of the construction the Kárahnjúkar dam and the construction of an aluminum smelter in East Iceland.
2.9.2002: Minister of Industry authorises the construction of a 750 MW power plant at Kárahnjúkar to provide the Reyðarfjörður aluminum smelter with energy.
6.12.2002: Italian contractor Impregilo has the lowest bid for the construction of the Kárahnjúkar dam. The Italians’s bid is substantially lower than cost estimates.
7.12.2002: Swedish contractor NCC claims to have pulled out of the bid for the Kárahnjúkar dam project for environmental reasons.
10.12.2002: In a meeting in City Council, council member Ólafur F. Magnússon demands that the Mayor of Reykjavík declare that the City of Reykjavík will not take part in the signing of an agreement between the National Power Company and Alcoa, planned later that week.
10.1.2003: The executive boards of Alcoa and the National Power Company agree to a price for energy for the Reyðarfjörður aluminum smelter. Minister of Industry, Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, celebrates the agreement. Energy prices are kept confidential.
14.1.2003: Premiere of Ómar Ragnarsson’s documentary Á Meðan Land Byggist to a full house in Austurbæjarbíó.
14.1.2003: On behalf of the City of Reykjavík, Mayor Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir meets with representatives from Alcoa and agrees to pose a request to city council that the City of Reykjavík will guarantee a loan for the National Power Company for the construction of the Kárahnjúkar dam.
16.1.2003: 1,000 people protest the proposed developments at Kárahnjúkar outside Reykjavík City Hall, while City Council meets to discuss the city’s loan guarantee. City Council approves the guarantee.
4.3.2003: Leader of the Leftist-Green Party, Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, proposes an amendment to the Kárahnjúkar law, which would allow a nationwide referendum on the Kárahnjúkar dam in relation to the parliamentary elections in May 2003. The proposal is declined with thirty-five votes against six, while ten MPs abstain from voting. Twelve MPs are not present during voting.
5.3.2003: Parliament approves a proposal that allows the Minister of Industry to enter into negotiations on the building and operation of an aluminum smelter in Reyðarfjörður. The proposal is accepted with forty-one votes against nine. One MP abstains from voting. Twelve MPs are not present.
14.3.2003: Opponents of the Kárahnjúkar dam plan a torchlight procession in front of the parliamentary building. Sixty-three candles were lit, one for each of the country’s MPs. Fifty-four candles are then blown out, representing the fifty-four MPs who did not vote against the Kárahnjúkar dam.
15.3.2003: 1,000 people attend a meeting in Reyðarfjörður where Minister of IndustryValgerður Sverrisdóttir, Minister of Finance Geir H. Haarde, CEO and director of Alcoa Alain J.P. Belda, head of Alcoa’s, negotiations committee Michael Baltzell, CEO of the National Power Company Jóhannes Geir Sigurgeirsson, director of the National Power Company Friðrik Sophusson and the mayor of Fjarðabyggð Guðmundur Bjarnason, sign a contract for the construction of an aluminum smelter in Reyðarfjörður.
18.3.2003: The National Power Company and Impregilo sign a contract for the construction of the Kárahnjúkar dam, worth 38 billion ISK, plus VAT.
20.12.2003: The first of three giant drills used for the construction of the Kárahnjúkar dam arrives from Cleveland, Ohio, The drill is 130 tons, its largest piece weighing 70 tons, making it the heaviest payload ever transported on Icelandic highways.
15.3.2004: An Icelandic worker is fatally injured while working on the Kárahnjúkar dam.
24. 4.2004: Drilling starts.
July 2004: TV news reporter Ómar Ragnarsson, publishes the book Kárahnjúkavirkjun – með og á móti (Kárahnjúkar – Pros and Cons)
8.7.2004: First ground is broken for the construction of the Reyðarfjörður aluminum smelter.
5.1.2005: The Icelandic Labor Union ASÍ criticises wages paid to foreign workers on the Kárahnjúkar project. They receive 50,000 ISK less than minimum wage according to a contract for the project.
7.4.2005: New geological studies show that dislocations at the Kárahnjúkar damming site are more extensive than originally anticipated. The studies indicate that water pressure from the Hálsalón lagoon could cause movement in the dislocation.
19.7.2005: Protest camp established at Kárahnjúkar.
27.3.2006: Twenty-six-year-old Icelandic worker is fatally injured in an accidental explosion at the Kárahnjúkar dam.
2.4.2006: Icelandic worker is fatally injured in an accident at the Kárahnjúkar damming site.
12.5.2006: Three hundred people protest outside the parliament building as the cornerstone for the power plant’s control station.
7.8.2006: Protesters camp by Kárahnjúkar closed by local police authorities. Fourteen people are arrested.
26.8.2006: The MPs of the Leftist-Green party ask the government to postpone plans to start filling the Hálsalón lagoon until risk assessment can be re-evaluated.
21.9.2006: TV news reporter Ómar Ragnarsson declares that he can no longer maintain his objectivity regarding the Kárahnjúkar project, and will not report on the matter in the future. Ragnarsson calls for the shutdown of the dam and that plans to fill the Hálsárlón lagoon be postponed.
26.9.2006: Twelve-thousand people join a demonstration march in support of Ómar Ragnarson and in protest against the Kárahnjúkar dam.
28.9.2006: The construction of the Kárahnjúkar dam is complete, build up of Hálsalón lagoon begins, and the water reservoir will flood 57 km2 of Europe’s largest unspoiled wilderness.