close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
AFP
June 6, 2020

Russia sees melting permafrost behind Arctic fuel spill

World

AFP
June 6, 2020

An unprecedented fuel spill that has polluted huge stretches of Arctic rivers was caused by melting permafrost, Russian officials said on Friday, ordering a review of similar structures in vulnerable zones.

The spill -- which has coloured remote tundra waterways with bright red patches visible from space -- has highlighted Russia’s vulnerability to climate change as areas locked by permafrost for centuries thaw amid warmer temperatures.

News of the cause of the accident came amid a huge cleanup effort outside the Arctic city of Norilsk which President Vladimir Putin said should be bankrolled by metals giant Norilsk Nickel. A national-level state of emergency was announced after 21,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled from a reservoir that collapsed last Friday which Norilsk Nickel owns through a subsidiary.

Three criminal probes have been launched, and Russia’s prosecutor general’s office said in a statement that preliminary findings indicate sagging ground as the reason for the collapse. "To prevent a similar situation on especially hazardous structures on territories prone to melting of permafrost," the prosecutor general has "ordered a comprehensive review of such objects," it said.

Norilsk, one of the country’s biggest industrial centres, lies above the Arctic circle and Norilsk Nickel had already said it suspects permafrost thawing. The metals giant, which owns the reservoir through a subsidiary, tried to contain the damage on its own for two days before specialists were called in from companies and agencies across Russia and managed to stop the spill from spreading further.

Speaking with officials at the site by video call, Putin told Norilsk Nickel chief Vladimir Potanin he expected the company to pay for a comprehensive cleanup. "It’s necessary to carry out all the compensatory measures to restore biodiversity and the environment," he said.

Potanin estimated that the operations would cost about 10 billion rubles ($146 million), on top of any fines. "We will spend whatever is needed," said Potanin. "We will return the ecosystem back to normal." Russia’s environmental watchdog Svetlana Radionova said the damage was being calculated, calling the accident "unprecedented in scope".

A vast Arctic state, Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the world average. Sixty-five percent of the country is covered by permafrost and the environment ministry warned in 2018 that the melt threatens pipes and structures, as well as buried toxic waste, which can seep out into waterways.

Northern regions have also rung the alarm, with the eastern Arctic Yakutia area for years lobbying Moscow to pass legislation protecting permafrost. Environmentalists said the spill was the worst such accident ever in the Arctic region and the second worst in modern Russian history.

The Ambarnaya River, which is affected by the spill, feeds into Lake Pyasino, a major body of water and the source of the Pyasina River that is vitally important to the entire Taimyr peninsula.