Burning curiosity: Kids, researchers and dozens of others get a charge out of tours at Longyearbyen’s power plant

plantkidquestion

Erik Haukalid, 6, is already an expert when it comes to energy production. But it’s still tough explaining in words what’s going on inside that giant building constantly emitting smoke.

“He has seen this large building and he is wondering what this is,” said his father, Snorre, a cultural heritage advisor for The Governor of Svalbard, shortly before joining a group of about a dozen others Saturday for a tour of Longyearbyen’s coal-fired power plant.

Erik was by far the most charged of the group, generating as many questions as the rest of the group combined and fusing himself to plant employee Lars Wiggen for close-up looks at equipment.

The youth’s most glowing moment?

“The coal burner,” he said afterward, referring to his brief look through a small round opening into the blazing blackness.

Scores of people were led on tours by employees during an open day at the power plant, which has been both the town’s lifeline and a monument of controversy for decades. Upgrades to the plant are expected to keep it operational for another 25 years, but people ranging from local residents to international politicians frequently question if a coal plant is appropriate in what’s promoted as a pristine Arctic environment.

The elder Haukalid said he isn’t among those bothered by the plant’s existence.

“The history of Longyearbyen is coal mining, so it’s natural to have a coal plant,” he said.

While many those taking the hour-long tours were curiosity seekers of varying ages, some took advantage of the open day for more serious purposes.

Tatiana Drotikova, a student from Ryazan, Russia, studying at The University Centre in Svalbard, said her thesis involves the effects of coal emissions on the Arctic and this was her first chance to see all of the plant.

“So I need to study this plant and the one ins Barentsburg,” she said. “I know only principles, so it’s cool to see it for real.”