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 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 22:39 GMT
Bjork scorns 'crazy' Iceland smelter plan
Mountain river at sunset   Alex Kirby
Karahnjukar is Europe's second-largest wilderness

The pop star Bjork regards a huge industrial scheme planned for an unspoilt part of her native Iceland as "crazy", her mother says.

Hildur Runa Hauksdottir, a committed protestor against the plan, said her daughter supported her.

She said she remained hopeful the scheme could be stopped.

It involves building a huge reservoir and hydroelectric plant in the highlands to power an aluminium smelter.

Bjork thinks this is just an old-fashioned crazy thing, an old story, something you might have done 50 years ago

Hildur Runa Hauksdottir
Ms Hauksdottir was speaking to BBC Radio 4's environment programme, Costing the Earth.

She went without food for three weeks last October in protest at the planned Karahnjukar development, losing more than 6 kilograms (13 pounds).

Empty quarter

Iceland's state-owned power company plans to build 11 dams to create a 22-square mile reservoir, which will provide the hydroelectric power for a smelter to be built by the US-based company Alcoa at Reydarfjordur on the east coast.

Mountain road. Photo by  the BBC's Alex Kirby
Roads are being built
The area, close to the Vatnajokull icecap, is Europe's largest wilderness after the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

Ms Hauksdottir told Costing the Earth: "It's really terrorism that's going on there... because it will destroy the land from the glacier all down to the sea little by little.

"Bjork thinks this is just an old-fashioned crazy thing, an old story, something you might have done 50 years ago."

The Icelandic Government says the scheme will combat unemployment and stem the depopulation of the eastern fjords, where fishing offers dwindling opportunities.

Smari Geirsson, leader of the east coast's local authority, said: "We have fewer and fewer jobs.

"People have had to move away, not because they want to but because they have to. And many of them wish to come back."

Blowing away

About 4,000 reindeer graze in Karahnjukar in the spring and rear their calves there in the summer.

Mountains, town and fjord.   Photo by  the BBC's Alex Kirby
The eastern fjords are emptying
Biologists say many deer will be affected by the scheme, together with the pink-footed geese which flock to Karahnjukar in their thousands.

But Professor Thora Ellen Thorhallsdottir, a University of Iceland botanist, says the greatest risk posed by the development may be to the soil.

She says the water level in the reservoir will fluctuate by up to 75 metres (245 feet), killing the vegetation and exposing the soil to erosion.

Professor Thorhallsdottir told the programme: "Iceland is a very windy country. The soil particles are relatively light... Iceland has probably lost half of its original vegetation to erosion since the country was settled...

"What people are concerned about is if the wind starts blowing all this loose soil material over the vegetation."

Refusal reversed

Alcoa says it will do all it can to protect the environment, discharging no waste water from the production process and respecting Iceland's strict air quality regulations.

Bjork's mother. Photo by  the BBC's Alex Kirby
Bjork's mother is unwavering
Iceland's planning agency ruled against Karahnjukar after an environmental impact assessment said it would cause unacceptable damage.

But the agency's decision was reversed by the Environment Minister, Siv Fridliefsdottir.

She told Costing the Earth: "We went over the case as scientifically as we could... and we changed the project quite dramatically.

Fighting on

"The planning office didn't do all their work right... they weren't taking all the information into account."

Roads have been driven into Karahnjukar, and camps for the construction teams already sprout from the bare, treeless landscape.

Conservationists are fighting the government in the courts over its reversal of the planning agency's decision. And Hildur Runa Hauksdottir is ready to protest afresh.

She says: "I might have to go on hunger strike again, but it's no joke... I'm still optimistic. You never know. Miracles have happened."

See also:

12 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
30 Oct 02 | Entertainment
23 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
21 Aug 02 | Archive
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