Health

Russian mining giant admits ‘violations’ at Arctic plant

A view of the site of a diesel fuel spill at Norilsk’s Combined Heat and Power Plant No 3.

MOSCOW: A Russian mining giant behind an enormous Arctic fuel spill last month said Sunday it had suspended workers at a metals plant who were responsible for pumping wastewater into nearby tundra. Norilsk Nickel cited a “flagrant violation of operating rules” in a statement announcing it had suspended employees responsible for dumping wastewater from a dangerously full reservoir into wildlife. The incident occurred at the Talnakh enrichment plant near the Arctic city of Norilsk, the company said, one month after the unprecedented fuel leak sparked a state of emergency declared by President Vladimir Putin.

More than 21,000 tons of diesel leaked from a fuel storage tank at one of the company’s subsidiary plants near Norilsk. The fuel seeped into the soil and dyed nearby waterways bright red. A source told Interfax news agency Sunday that in the most recent case, around 6,000 cubic meters of liquid used to process minerals at the facility had been dumped and that the discharge had lasted “several hours”.

It was impossible to determine how far the wastewater had dispersed, the source said. Independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta published videos from the scene showing large metal pipes carrying wastewater from the reservoir and dumping foaming liquid into nearby trees. The journalists claimed the factory deliberately funneled the wastewater into wildlife areas and hastily removed their pipes when investigators and emergency services arrived on the scene.

Unauthorized dumping

The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it had received reports of “unauthorized dumping of liquid waste into the tundra” on the site of the facility, and had opened an enquiry. Heavy machinery used to clear the pipes crushed a car delivering officials to the scene, Novaya Gazeta reported. Interfax said no one was injured in the incident which was also being probed.

Norilsk Nickel spokeswoman Tatiana Egorova earlier Sunday told AFP that employees of the factory had pumped out “purified water” and that an internal investigation was under way. Russia’s natural resources agency said the decision to remove water from the reservoir was taken to avoid an emergency after heavy rains and recent tests had caused water levels to increase dramatically.  

The local emergency services in a statement said the wastewater was not likely to reach the nearby Kharayelakh river. The massive fuel spill last month took place at a plant owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, which had said that the fuel tank had collapsed or sank due to melting permafrost due to climate change.

Putin declared an emergency situation after the accident and the head of Norilsk Nickel, oligarch Vladimir Potanin, promised to pay the costs of the clean-up. The Russian authorities said earlier this month they had cleared the spill from the surface of a river, but the full clean-up could take years. 

Fuel spill

Meanwhile, water and soil samples that were taken near the site of a giant fuel spill in the Russia’s Arctic and prepared for tests at an independent lab have been held up at the Norilsk airport, a lawmaker and Greenpeace said. A vast fuel tank lost pressure in the end of May and released more than 20,000 tons of diesel into rivers and subsoil near Norilsk, an incident that Greenpeace has compared to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

The city of Norilsk is home to mining giant Nornickel. The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers into containers. Sergei Mitrokhin, a lawmaker at Moscow legislature, said he was trying to fly out of Norilsk on Saturday with samples in his baggage, when the airport security held him up on suspicion he was trying to carry combustible materials. “I had to leave the baggage behind. First, they had referred to the order of the security service of Nornickel, which had to clear transportation of all the samples,” he told Reuters.

“Then they said the police had received an anonymous call that the baggage could contain some combustible materials.” Nornickel, in emailed comments, cited Sergei Erastov, deputy head of security at the Norilsk airport as saying that the passengers carried samples of water and soil without necessary documents. He said they were given the option of leaving the samples at a temporary baggage storage or doing the right paperwork.

A police serviceman on duty at the airport, Sergei Kuzmin, told Reuters that the security service had not allowed the samples to be taken on board due to lack of clearance documents. Mitrokhin was in Norilsk at the request of reporters from Novaya Gazeta newspaper, who have been covering the spill for the past two weeks. They shared details of the fallout from the spill and handed over the samples, collected by the activists from Greenpeace. — Agencies

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