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Tuesday 17 July 2018

Shadow town sees the light at last

A crowd can be seen surrounding sunbathers on deck chairs during the opening of giant sun mirrors in the mountain valley town of Rjukan, Norway. (AP/NTB Scanpix)
A crowd can be seen surrounding sunbathers on deck chairs during the opening of giant sun mirrors in the mountain valley town of Rjukan, Norway. (AP/NTB Scanpix)
A group of youths play games after the official opening of giant sun mirrors in the town of Rjukan, Norway |(AP/NTB Scanpix)

A village in Norway is seeing the winter sun for the first time thanks a giant array of mirrors.

Tucked in between steep mountains, Rjukan is normally shrouded in shadow for almost six months a year.

But faint rays have reached it at last via three 183-square-foot mirrors placed on a mountain.

Cheering families, some on sun loungers, drinking cocktails and waving Norwegian flags, donned sunglasses as the sun crept from behind a cloud to hit the mirrors and reflect down onto the faces of delighted children below.

The plan to illuminate Rjukan was first mooted 100 years ago by the Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde, who built the town to provide workers for a hydroelectric plant.

The engineer never saw his plan become reality, but his plant and the Telemark town he founded developed a special affection in the Norwegian imagination as the site of the country's most famous wartime escapade.

Occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, the factory was a staging post in Hitler's quest for the atomic bomb. The story of how 12 Norwegian saboteurs parachuted into the nearby tundra and survived freezing temperatures to destroy the factory's "heavy water" plant inspired a 1965 Hollywood film, "The Heroes of Telemark," and is being turned into a 10-part TV series by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle.

In contrast to the shadow cast over Europe by Hitler's plan for an atomic weapon, the three mirrors - ironically being remotely controlled from Germany - captured the sunlight and sent it in an ellipse that illuminated about one-third of the square below.

A band encouraged a cloud that weakened the effect to move away with the song, "Let The Sunshine In."

Jan-Anders Dam-Nielsen, director of the Norwegian Industrial Museum, located on the site of the famous factory, said the solar experiment would mark another chapter in the history of Rjukan.

"Soon we will celebrate 70 years since the saboteurs struck the factory," he said. "Then we will think about how we mark this. This is a really important day in the history of this town. And like the mirrors reflected the sun, we will reflect this in the museum."

Helicoptered in and installed 1,500 feet above the town square, the computer-controlled mirrors, or heliostats, are more commonly used to create solar power in sun drenched regions of the Middle East. Here, the solar energy they capture is used to power their tilting trajectory as they follow the sun's brief dash across the Norwegian winter sky.

The century-old idea was revived in 2005 by Martin Andersen, an artist and resident of the town, who helped raise the sponsorship money. Most has come from Norsk Hydro - the company founded by Sam Eyde.


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