Mirrors to reflect sun on Rjukan

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The Norwegian industrial town of Rjukan is known for its darkness in winter, nestled as it is at the bottom of a narrow valley in the mountains of Telemark County. Now civic boosters hope the sun will finally shine on the town hall square year round, with the help of giant mirrors being erected on a nearby mountainside.

Rjukan, seen at far right in this photo, is located at the bottom of a valley in the mountains of Telemark. That's why it doesn't get any sun in the winter, but it may now. At right, the peak known as Gaustatoppen. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Rjukan, seen at far right in this photo, is located at the bottom of a valley in the mountains of Telemark. That’s why it doesn’t get any sun in the winter, but it may now. At right, the peak known as Gaustatoppen. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported this week how the admittedly “wild” mirror idea from 100 years ago is now taking shape. It was first floated back in 1913 by a local factory worker, Oscar Kittelsen, and considered by none other than legendary industrialist Sam Eyde, who worried that residents of the town where he founded the multinational firm Norsk Hydro didn’t get any sun during the winter months. Mirrors mounted on nearby mountainsides could send sunshine down to the valley below, they mused, but Eyde opted to build a gondola that could carry sun-starved residents up to the mountaintops instead.

It’s still running and remains a local tourist attraction, along with monuments to Rjukan’s dramatic war resistance history and the industrial museum at nearby Vemork, famous as the site of sabotage carried out by resistance fighters and popularized in the movie “The Heroes of Telemark.”

Now local officials hope their new mirrors will also attract more visitors and retain residents. Local entrepreneur Martin Andersen, who moved to Telemark from Oslo, has been working on the project since 2003, finally won local government support and funding (estimated at NOK 5 million, reported local newspaper Varden) and now can see the wild idea become reality.

For photos and video from NRK, click here.

The mirrors, put in place with the help of helicopters, will catch rays of the sun and shine them down on Rjukan. Crews of Norwegian and German construction workers were busy this week setting up the mirrors, also known as solspeil or heliostaten and making sure they’ll work this winter.

Solar cells will power equipment that automatically will wash the mirrors and adjust them for the best reflection. A similar project was set up at Viganella in northern Italy, which Andersen and a delegation from Rjukan have visited.

Øystein Hagan, world heritage coordinator for Tinn Kommune, is now responsible for the project and expects it to be completed by the end of the month. There won’t be an official opening, though, until the autumn when the sun has disappeared from the town and “when residents will be able to really see the full effect” of the mirrors.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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