A spill of 20,000 tons of diesel oil in a region of Siberia led Russian president Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency.
After 20,000 tons of diesel oil from a power station in the arctic region spilled into a local river, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency in the Siberian city of Norilsk on Wednesday, 3 June.
The spill happened Friday 29 May in Norilsk in the Ambarnaya River, part of a network that flows into the environmentally sensitive Arctic Ocean and around 3000 km northeast of Moscow.
According to Yevgeny Zinichev, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry, the power station’s employees initially tried to contain the rupture on their own and did not report the incident to emergency services for two days. President Putin was visible agitated after learning about the spill while chairing a nationally televised meeting.
The governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, Alexander Uss, told Putin that he became aware of the oil spill on Sunday after “alarming information appeared on social media.”
“What, are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media now? Are you on your right mind over there?” Said Putin, chiding Krasnoyarsk governor, Alexander Uss, and managers of the station’s operator, Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company, for the delayed response.
Norilsk Nickel’s head of the power plant said they had reported the leak in a “timely and proper” way and that the pillars had held the tank in its place “for 30 years without difficulty”.
Because of the delay in informing the Moscow authorities about the spill, the Russian Investigative Committee (SK) has launched a criminal case over the pollution and alleged negligence. Three criminal proceedings are being conducted, and the head of the power plant has been detained for violating environmental protection rules, the TASS (Russia News Agency) report said.
The accident is believed to be the second-largest in modern Russian history in terms of volume, an expert from the World Wildlife Fund, Alexei Knizhnikov, told the AFP news agency.
“It can already be said now that it will take decades for the restoration of the ecological balance of the affected Norilo-Pyasinsky water system,” said the head of the federal fishing agency, Rosribolov. Dmitry Klokov, adding that the event is nothing short of an ecological catastrophe.
According to the company’s First Vice President Sergey Dyachenko, the Norilsk Nickel will clear away contaminated soil and is sending special containers to collect the toxic mix of water and fuel from the river, the Interfax news agency reported.
Dyachenko said on state television that the fuel reservoir at the power plant may have collapsed because of thawing permafrost, a result of global warming and a threat to constructions across the Arctic region.
“By the nature of the cracks in the concrete and the collapse of the supporting columns, we believe something happened in the ground, possibly the thawing of the soil,” he added.
Dyachenko said the clean-up may take two weeks under favorable weather conditions, but that the situation is “under control.”
Nonetheless, environmentalists criticized the clean-up efforts on the Ambarnaya River saying that the cleaning would not be easy given the river’s shallow waters and remote location, as well as the magnitude of the spill.
“The booms that were set up will only collect an insignificant part of the pollution, so we can assert that almost all of the diesel fuel will remain in the environment,” Greenpeace Russia said in a statement.
According to a 2018 NASA study based on satellite data, Norilsk city tops the list for worst sulfur dioxide pollution, spewing 1.9 million tons of the gas over the Arctic tundra.