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World Russia: ecological disaster in the Far North

22:50  05 june  2020
22:50  05 june  2020 Source:   liberation.fr

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Vue aérienne de la rivière Ambarnaïa datant du 4 juin. © - Aerial view of the Ambarnaïa river dating from June 4. A landslide is believed to be the cause of a fuel tank rupture, which spilled into a river and has already reached a lake. The isolation of the site makes any cleanup operation extremely complex. An incident that is likely to recur with global warming.

The water of the Ambarnaïa river is tinged with bright red with iridescent reflections, adding to the extraterrestrial appearance of the tundra of the Russian Far North. It could be beautiful if it weren't tragic, the result of an industrial accident that threatens to become the worst ecological disaster in Arctic history.

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On May 29, a fuel tank ruptured at a power station near Norilsk in the Russian Arctic released 21,000 tonnes of diesel fuel into the Embarnaia. Downstream, Lake Piassino, the Kara Sea, and at the end, the Arctic Ocean. The national authorities are not informed until June 2. In one of these televised Council of Ministers, which has become the norm for the covid era, Vladimir Putin admonishes the leaders of the region in a row for the slowness of their reaction: "So now we have to keep abreast of ecological disasters on social networks, right? But are you sick? ” The governor of Krasnoyarsk Territory, Alexander Ouss, had just finished his report and admitted that it would be practically impossible to resolve the problem quickly. In question, the ruthless logistics of this particularly isolated region. "There are about 20 kilometers to go without any road, and the river is not navigable," he said. The only solution to get rid of the fuel pumped out of the river is therefore to burn it on the spot. "In the middle of the Arctic zone, I do not see how it will be possible," replied the Minister of Ecology, Dimitri Kobylkine.

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Floating dams

Vladimir Potanine, managing director of the company Norilsk Nickel, which specializes in the extraction and refining of nickel and palladium, and which operated the damaged power station, undertook to fully finance the cleaning work: Not a ruble of public money "will be spent, he says. Hundreds of men from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations have been deployed to the area and a state of emergency has been declared in the region. Several hundred tonnes of diesel were pumped out of the river, and thousands of cubic meters of earth were also drained. Seven lines of floating dams have been put in place to stop the flow of groundwater downstream, towards the sea and surrounding rivers, but doubts remain about the effectiveness of the measure.

According to the daily Kommersant, citing sources within the Ministry of Fisheries, the pollution has already reached Lake Piassino and the Kara Sea. For the Ministry of Ecology, on the contrary, the floating dams made it possible to contain the situation. The method used is the right one, confirms Alexei Knijnikov, of the Russian branch of WWF; but the environmental damage is already catastrophic. "Unlike crude oil," he explains in the RBK media, "diesel fuel includes carcinogens, which are fatal to flora and fauna." It remains to calculate how much of this fuel will dilute in water without being able to be recovered, and we can then estimate the damage. " Russian Deputy Minister of Ecology Elena Panova says it will take at least ten years before the damage is fully repaired.

Russia causes disaster in the Arctic

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Slow melting of permafrost

The incident is all the more worrying as it may have to be repeated. The most likely explanation for the failure of the Norilsk Nickel fuel tank is a landslide caused by the slow melting of permafrost, this layer of earth frozen all year round, known as "eternal frost" in Russian, and on which is built all the industrial installations and the cities beyond the polar circle, that is to say 80% of the gas extraction sites and nearly 15% of the oil deposits in Russia. Almost all of these installations are powered by diesel power stations, the only solution in completely isolated regions, with infinite distances.

But with global warming - the average temperature in Siberia has increased by 3 ° C in thirty years - thousands of sites are potentially threatened by such subsidence. "Obviously, it is because of a collapse of the terrain. But for me, this is primarily the result of irresponsible exploitation of an industrial area in the Arctic, "said Vassili Yablokov of Greenpeace Russia. Basically, he considers, "this accident raises the question of the development of human activity in the Arctic region. It is clear that it is not environmentally sustainable. "

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