Massive hydro project stirs controversy in Iceland

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

The New York Times reported this week that a massive hydroelectric project planned by Iceland’s state-owned power company is creating a major political controversy in the small circumpolar nation.

The $3-billion Karahnjukar hydro project is expected to create 2,000 construction jobs and between 600 and 1,000 permanent jobs.

The plan calls for the damming of two rivers, draining them through 24 miles of tunnels, and then pouring the water through turbines to generate 700 megawatts of electricity.

When finished, the plant would sell power to an aluminum smelter owned by Alcoa, the world’s largest aluminum company. Alcoa may invest $1 billion in the project.

Iceland’s economy, based on renewable resources industries like fishing, has been fading recently. Its tourism industry has not done well, either.

For that reason, the government hopes that the project will help keep Iceland’s dying rural towns populated.

The current plan was approved by 44 of the Iceland parliament’s 63 members, which included 12 members of the opposition. In a poll, 47 percent of Icelanders who responded supported the plan, and 30 percent opposed it.

Environmentalists are enraged because the project would be located in Europe’s second-largest wilderness area. Europe’s largest wilderness area is Norway’s Svarlbard Island, in the High Arctic.

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