• Why Is Russia Investigating Wastewater?

Why Is Russia Investigating Wastewater?

Jul 22 2020

A Russia mining company operating in the Arctic Circle is under investigation for allegedly pumping contaminated wastewater into the surrounding countryside. Norilsk Nickel, a metallurgical mining company, are the biggest miner of palladium in the world, while they’re also one of the foremost producers of copper and platinum. They are known as Nornickel for short.

Earlier this year, Nornickel dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons when a huge diesel storage tank located about 12 miles north of Norilsk sprang a leak. The effluent spilled into a nearby freshwater lake and there were significant fears that it could contaminate the Arctic Ocean, an outcome which emergency teams have been struggling to prevent ever since.

However, the company has once more caused a furore after footage emerged of foamy water emanating from the site’s reservoir into the open Arctic Tundra late last month. Nornickel have apologised for the incident and indicated they will be conducting an internal investigation to find and punish those responsible for the breach.

Caught in the act

While Russia does not fall under the umbrella of the EU’s Medium Combustion Plant Directive (MCPD), its industrial operations – including all mining activities – are governed by strict protocols. However, Nornickel were found to be in transgression of those protocols when reporters and ecologists published a video of apparently unclean water being pumped into the countryside almost exactly one month after the initial diesel spillage.

While those at the scene had speculated that the effluent contained heavy metals such as cobalt, copper and nickel, which could contaminate the Arctic Ocean and compromise local drinking water supplies, the firm have denied those allegations. Instead, they said that the water had been treated and “purified” and that it had been pumped out of the reservoir itself to prevent overspill.

Nonetheless, they did admit wrongdoing and claim to have suspended several onsite officials pending an investigation. For its part, Russia’s Investigate Committee (SK) are conducting their own enquiry into the incident. The SK is dedicated to investigating serious crimes committed on Russian soil.

No strangers to controversy

It’s not the first time that Nornickel have been implicated in a pollution scandal. Back in 2016, the Daldykan River in the north of Russia turned a sickly shade of red, prompting speculation that a leakage in a slurry plant owned by Nornickel was the culprit. The plant denied the charges, claiming instead that the river was always that colour and that iron ore sediments in the ground were to blame.

The May 29th diesel spillage represented another PR disaster for Nornickel, when around 21,000 tonnes of the fuel source leaked into the Ambarnya River and saturated all subsoil in the vicinity. It’s the most serious environmental accident of its kind to occur in the Arctic Circle in modern times, according to leading experts on the topic.Nonetheless, the company was bullish about the latest incident.

“Nornickel has launched an investigation into what happened, and the firm is working with the ministry of natural resources and the emergencies ministry,” said a spokesperson for the company. “Those responsible at the plant have been suspended… for allowing a flagrant violation of the operational rules at the plant's tailings reservoir.” The investigation is ongoing.




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