Russian Federation declares state of emergency after diesel spill in Siberia

Sunday, 07 Jun, 2020

A fuel tank at a power plant ruptured Friday in Norilsk - above the Arctic Circle in north-central Russian Federation - leaking at least 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the nearby Ambarnaya River.

In a televised video conference, Putin lambasted the head of the Nornickel subsidary in Norilsk, saying, "Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact?"

Emergency Situation Minister Yevgeny Zinichev flew to the area today, after talks with Putin and representatives of Nornickel.

Alexander Uss, governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, a huge Siberian territory in which Norilsk lies, had just told Putin he had only found out about the leak via social media two days after the event occurred.

The thermoelectric power plant at Norilsk is built on permafrost, which has weakened over the years owing to climate change.

The power plant manager, Vyacheslav Starostin, has since been detained by authorities.

Putin has already ordered an investigation into the incident, and as TASS reports, three criminal cases have been launched on charges of "land deterioration, water pollution and violation of environment protection rules".

The Russian president then approved the state of emergency to manage the spill.

Many ecologists have described the incident as the second largest environmental disaster in the history of modern Russian Federation.

The metallurgical plant is located near Norilsk, a city of 180,000 that sits 190 miles (300 kilometers) north of the Arctic Circle, according to Reuters.

The incident was much larger than a major 2007 spill in the Kerch strait of the Black Sea that involved 5,000 tons of oil, the WWF expert said.

Russian prosecutors have ordered checks at "particularly unsafe installations" built on permafrost, after a huge oil spill in the Arctic.

The state of emergency means extra forces are going to the area to assist with the clean-up operation.

A considerable amount of the spilled fuel has seeped into the Ambarnaya River, Putin said at a meeting with other officials to take stock of the situation.

Potanin, who is Russia's richest man with a net worth of almost $20 billion, according to Forbes, said Norilsk Nickel will pay for the costs of the cleanup, estimated at 10 billion rubles ($145 million).

Russia's environmental watchdog Svetlana Radionova said the damage was being calculated, and called the accident "unprecedented in scope".

"The booms that were set up will only collect an insignificant part of the pollution, so we can assert that nearly all of the diesel fuel will remain in the environment", Greenpeace Russia said in a statement. In 2016, the company acknowledged that flooding at one of its metal plants near the same area had caused a leak , which also turned a river bright red. Only the emergencies ministry with military support could deal with the pollution, he said.