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Nornickel’s environmental policy

A Russian city Norilsk is situated 2878 km far from Moscow, it is an industrial center and the world leader in non-ferrous metals’ production. The spills of industrial waste, polluting air, land and water, is systematical phenomenon in this area. Norilsk’s landscape picture reminds much Martian one: the soil is red, the river water and stones lying along the shore are of the same color. It seems impossible to imagine a place where even trees are no more able to grow, to be inhabited.

Recently (in May and July) at Nornickel’s production facilities the two incidents have happened. The disasters of such a kind, although it sounds horrible, are not exceptional for the area. For instance, in 2016 The Guardian reported on a spill of industrial waste into the Daldykan River near Norilsk city: Nadezhda plant, a subsidiary of Nornickel, appeared to be responsible for the incident. The company did not immediately admit its guilt, the representatives of the production giant tried to convince inhabitants that the river turned red because of the clay.

One more catastrophe – on the 29th of May, 2020. A Heat and Power Plant 3, containing diesel fuel, collapsed – as a result the fuel reached Ambarnaya River, Daldykan River and partially was absorbed into the soil. The pollution was registered by a satellite – Ambarnaya turned red, and even the days after the water in the river and in the nearby lakes remained unnatural color: from wine-dark to dirty-green.

Currently nobody is able to give a definite prognosis; however, ecologists state that the footprint of the disaster will be felt for a few years. Diesel is lighter than water and, being spilled in a small quantities, it evaporates quickly not causing environmental damage. But it is not comparable with the scale of the incident – when 21,000 tonnes of oil products spilled into the environment. “Diesel oil contains between 2,000 and 4,000 types of hydrocarbon (the naturally occurring building blocks of fossil fuels), which break down differently in the environment. Typically, 50% or more can evaporate within hours and days, harming the environment and causing respiratory problems for people nearby. Other, more resistant chemicals can bind with algae and microorganisms in the water and sink, creating a toxic sludge on the bed of the river or lake. This gives the impression that the contamination has been removed and is no longer a threat. However, this sludge can persist for months or years,” The Conversation reports. Even though diesel is lighter than water, it forms a membrane obstructing photosynthesis, which is vital for zooplankton and algae. Particular amount of diesel will reach the bottom of the rivers anyway. The soil that absorbed the fuel is also no more suitable for the life of microorganisms.

Russian ecologists estimated the harm at $2,1 billion. Nornickel company stated that it agrees to cover the cost of environmental remediation; however, at the same time it disputes calculations, claiming that “the recent water tests taken by Rosprirodnadzor confirm that pollution levels in the water bodies were in line with the background maximum permissible levels of pollution (PDK).” We venture upon a remark that the water of the red color does not meet any description of “permissible level.” Besides, Nornickel attempted to disguise the fact of pollution. On May 31 the company began to eliminate the consequences of the disaster – only 1,5 days after the spill. The security service of the plant did not let Rosprirodnadzor’ experts to take soil samples and inspect the epicentre of the emergency.

Before long another incident has happened. On June 28, activists witnessed the workers of the plant leaking the industrial waste into Kharaelah River, in Talnakh, using two hoses 45 cm(!) in diameter. After the law enforcement officers arrived, the workers of Nornickel dismantled the pipes in a hurry.

In fact, dangerous waste, which was spilled into Kharaelah River and which contained iron, sulfur, nickel, copper, surfactants, as a result has fallen – into Pyasino Lake.

On the 12th of July once again: Nornickel’s subsidiary Norilsktransgaz reported that as a result of the depressurization of the pipe, operated by Norilsktransgaz, 44,5 tonnes of aviation fuel leaked in the soil and local lake near Tukhard village, 151 km far from Norilsk city. As expected, the company assures there is no threat to the people living nearby. And such statements are no longer surprising as the practice has shown that in any emergency situation threatening Nornickel with considerable expanses the company tends to downplay the meaning of what is happening.

The locals know that Nornickel regularly discharges waste into the environment. Meanwhile, in 2019 the company’s income reached 13,6 billion dollars. According to the data provided by Statista, Nornickel’s CEO Vladimir Potanin is the richest billionaire in Russia (net worth of 19,7 billion), but Norilsk is one of the most polluted cities of the world.

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