Rio Tinto to Review Future of ISAL Smelter

ISAL aluminium smelter

According to a press release published this morning, Rio Tinto – one of the world’s largest metals and mining corporations – will conduct a strategic review of its ISAL smelter (situated just outside Hafnafjörður) to determine the operation’s “ongoing viability and explore options to improve its competitive position.”

500 Employees

Aluminium production at the ISAL (The Icelandic Aluminium Company) smelter began in 1969. The smelter currently employs roughly 500 people. Rio Tinto had previously reduced the smelter’s capacity to 85 per cent, owing to a lack of profitability.

In a press release this morning, Rio Tinto (which is the sole owner of ISAL) expects ISAL to remain, “unprofitable in the short to medium term in the challenging conditions facing the aluminium industry, due to the smelter’s uncompetitive energy costs and historically low aluminium prices.”

Rio Tinto will continue discussions with the Government of Iceland and the utility company Landsvirkjun (which provides power for the smelter) on how the smelter can return to profitability and become competitive in the global market. The corporation is considering all options in its strategic review (expected to be completed during the first half of 2020), “including curtailment and closure.”

The press release quotes Rio Tinto Aluminium chief executive Alf Barrios: “We have worked intensively to improve ISAL’s performance, however, it is currently unprofitable and cannot compete in the challenging market conditions due to its high power costs.”

Rio Tinto adds that it aims to work closely with stakeholders who have a shared interest in the smelter’s future, including the government, Landsvirkjun, employees, unions, and the local community.

Taken Aback by the News

In an interview earlier today, Reinhold Richter – principal union representative for ISAL employees – told Vísir that the news of the smelter’s possible closure had taken employees by surprise. The staff needs to “sleep on it,” Reinhold told Vísir.

A new wage agreement with ISAL has been drafted by the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA); however, SA and ISAL’s team of negotiators have not bee given permission to sign the agreement by Rio Tinto.

“Solemn News,” Says the Mayor

Vísir also spoke to Mayor of Hafnarfjörður Rósa Guðbjartsdóttir, who was apprehensive.

“[ISAL] is one of the largest employers in town. It has operated for decades and it means a lot to the entire community. It’s not only a large and pleasant place of work, but it has also had a synergistic effect on other companies in town.”

Oscar Win Leads Thousands of Icelanders to Genealogical Site

Hildur Guðnadóttir Oscar

Nearly 3,000 Icelanders have visited Íslendingabó – a database containing genealogical information about the inhabitants of Iceland – to examine their kinship with composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, Mbl reports. Hildur became the first Icelander* to win an Oscar on Sunday, February 9, for her original score for the film Joker.

Heavy Traffic

In response to an inquiry from Mbl, deCODE genetics – a research company that manages the website Íslendingabó in collaboration with anti-virus software entrepreneur Friðrik Skúlason – replied that search queries relating to Hildur Guðnadóttir had caused a considerable increase in traffic on the site (traffic increased by roughly a quarter).

Hundreds of users had examined their kinship to the composer in the days leading up to the Oscars, and on Sunday, February 9, a total of 314 users did the same, resulting in a 5% increase in traffic on the site.

Proud “Cousins”

Several Icelanders have shared the results of their queries on social media, among the comedian and former Mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, who declared that he was proud of his “cousin” (Jón Gnarr and Hildur Guðnadóttir are eighth cousins).

Elated, Kristinn R. Ólafsson – radio presenter and translator – replied to Jón Gnarr’s tweet saying that he was even more related to Hildur than Jón (they are seventh cousins). Jón Gnarr replied with the words: “Congratulations! Send my best regards to our cousin.”

Tómas Steindórsson, DJ and Twitterite, also inspected his blood relationship with Hildur, discovering that they are seventh cousins. “Congratulations, cousin,” Tómas tweeted.

A Grand Project

As noted on the website of Íslendingabók, the project aims to trace all known familial connections between Icelanders from the time of the settlement of Iceland to present times and register the genealogical information in a database:

“In the creation of the Íslendingabók database[,] we have used various sources and both unpublished and published documents. Most of the genealogical information comes from sources such as church records, national censuses, inhabitants registers and other public documents, but in addition to these sources[,] there are chronicles, books of convictions, various publications on genealogy, books about individuals within specific occupations, lists of descendants and ancestral records as well as memorial articles to name but a few.

The database is in Icelandic and is, unfortunately, not available in other languages.

Interview with Hildur

Iceland Review spoke to Hildur Guðnadóttir last year.

*Markéta Irglová – who has lived in Iceland for eight years, and applied for citizenship – won the Oscar in the category Best Original Score for the song Falling Slowly, from the film Once, in 2007.

Continued Frost, Yellow Weather Alert for Friday


Temperatures in Iceland dipped well below zero last night, with the lowest temperatures being recorded by the Icelandic Met Office in Sandskeiði (-16.4°), Húsafell (-15.2°), Grímsstaðir á Fjöllum (-14.1°), and in Víðidalur (-13.7°), near the equestrian centre of the Fákur riding club. The Icelandic Met Office predicts continued cold weather in the country along with a “deep low” on Friday.

Today’s Forecast

Today’s forecast, as indicated on the Met Office’s website, predicts northerly winds between 3-10 m/s, slight snow or hail in North Iceland, intermittent snowfall near the Southeastern coast, and cloudy or partly cloudy weather in Southwest Iceland. Temperatures are expected to descend to between -3 and -13° today, with increased frost after midnight (as low as -20°).

Tomorrow, the Met expects increased easterly winds in South and West Iceland, increased snowfall near the coasts, and slightly warmer temperatures generally.

A Deep Low

As reported in the Icelandic media earlier this week, the Met Office has issued a yellow weather alert for Friday as an “exceptionally deep low” is approaching Iceland from the southwest. The forecast seems increasingly likely as Friday draws near. Currently situated southwest of Newfoundland, the storm’s cloud system is readily discernible via satellite images. The storm will travel east over the Atlantic today and wind speeds are expected to pick up. Tomorrow, the low will turn north towards Iceland.

The weather on Friday will see easterly strong gales, storm-force winds, or a violent storm (windiest in South Iceland initially). Sleet and snowfall is expected in most parts of the country, with the most significant precipitation occurring in South and East Iceland. The weather will slowly improve over the day, with temperatures expected to rise to 1° and 5° late in the afternoon in lowland areas in the south and on the east coast (with mild frost in North Iceland). Much lighter wind is expected in all of Iceland in the evening.

Inauspicious Travel Weather

As noted by the Met Office, the weather on Friday is highly unfavourable for travelling:

“The weather is likely to cause extensive transport disturbances and travelling is not advised while the weather warning is in effect. Damage to structures due to the wind is possible, especially in the south … People are advised to exercise caution to prevent accidents and fasten loose objects. High sea levels are expected due to storm surge.”

As noted by the Met Office, a yellow weather alert, while generally used to indicate stormy weather, is also employed to warn of weather three to five days in the future. This caveat applies to the coming storm on Friday: “As the storm nears, it is likely that the weather alert will be upgraded to Orange.”

See for further information regarding weather and road conditions.