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Russia declares state of emergency after 20,000 tonne oil spill

04 June 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency on June 3 after 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel leaked from a power plant near the Siberian city of Norilsk on May 29. The accident took place at the Nadezhdinski Metallurgical Plant where a “considerable amount” of the spilled petrochemicals seeped into the Ambarnaya River, the Kremlin said.

Putin holds meeting about spill response - Image: Kremlin
Putin holds meeting about spill response - Image: Kremlin

The spill originated from a power plant belonging to a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world's leading nickel and palladium producer. The leak occurred after a fuel tank, which is built on permafrost, became depressurised due to the subsidence of its support pillars. The spill consisted of fuel and lubricants and much of it flowed into the nearby Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers.
In a televised government meeting, President Putin criticised the local government for its response to the incident after it emerged that officials first heard about the leak on social media, two days after it had happened.
Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s state environment watchdog, says that around 15,000 tonnes of oil products had leaked into river systems while around 6,000 tonnes had seeped into the subsoil. Reuters news agency quotes the state fisheries agency as saying the it will take decades for the river to recover.
The spill is thought to have contaminated around 135 square miles (350 sq. km), according to Russian state media. News footage in Russia showed parts of the Ambarnaya river coloured crimson red due to the spill which spread up to 7.5 miles (12km) away from the original site of the accident. President Putin declared the state of emergency, which enabled extra resources and manpower to be sent to the area, in order to help the clean-up efforts.
In the conference call with President Putin, Minister for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Natural Disaster Relief Yevgeny Zinichev said that measures are being taken to localise the spread of the spill, oil booms have been installed, and work is underway to collect oil products, contaminated water and soil. Specialists from Moscow were flown to the area to help section off parts of the river.
An investigation into the incident has begun and the BBC reports that a manager at the power plant has been detained.
Norilsk, located around 190 miles (300km) inside the Arctic Circle, has a population of around 175,000 and is built around Norilsk Nickel. The nickel and palladium producer released a statement saying it was doing all it could to clear up the spill and that the incident was reported in a timely and proper way.
On June 5, Russia's Prosecutor General's office ordered a review of all hazardous objects built on permafrost. President Putin held a second online meeting with officials where he asked them to amend Russian law to help prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. Putin was also critical of Norilsk Nickel's President, Vladimir Potanin, for not replacing the impacted fuel tank before an incident could have happened.
Officials said that on June 9, the leak had reached Lake Pyasino. The lake is around 70km long and feeds into the Pyasina River which eventually leads to the Arctic Ocean.
The BBC quotes a former deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor as saying the clean-up could cost up to 100bn roubles (£1.2bn; $1.5bn) and take up to ten years.
Norilsk Nickel has been accountable for an oil leak before, notably in 2016 when it admitted responsibility for a spill which turned parts of a nearby river crimson red.

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