The huge loss of diesel in Siberia risks reaching the Arctic Ocean


On May 29, near Norilsk, in the Russian Krasnoyarsk region of northern Siberia, there was an accident in a power plant: a tanker lost about 20 thousand tons of diesel, which poured into the Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers, coloring them with red and arriving tens of kilometers from the crash site. The plant is managed by NTEK, a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, one of the most important companies in the world for the extraction and melting of nickel and palladium.

Despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin had declared a state of emergency after the accident and despite the efforts made in the last few days to contain the leak, diesel fuel has reached Lake Pyasino. At the moment, the loss of diesel is confined to the lake, which has a basin of over 700 square kilometers and which is mainly frozen from October to June, but the concern of the authorities is that with the arrival of the heat, diesel can reach the Pyasino river. and get to the Arctic Ocean. Alexander Uss, governor of Krasnoyarsk, said authorities are currently doing everything possible to contain the leak in the lake and prevent diesel fuel from reaching the Pyasina river, an eventuality that would cause an environmental disaster.

The loss of diesel seen from above (European Space Agency via AP)

Already now, however, the environmental damage caused by the loss is enormous, despite the removal of around 23,000 cubic meters of polluted soil. According to Greenpeace environmentalists, it will take dozens of years to remedy the effects that the loss of diesel fuel has had on river waters, on animals that drink that water and on plants that grow in the area. Greenpeace likened the incident to that in 1989 in the Prince William Strait, Alaska, when an ExxonMobil-owned oil tanker ran aground on a cliff and dispersed 40.9 million liters of oil into the sea.

The accident occurred due to the collapse of the pillars that supported a diesel tank, and according to Sergei Dyachenko, director of operations of Norilsk Nickel, the cause would not be attributable to the company but to the anomalous global warming. The whole area was in fact built on permafrost, the perennially frozen ground that distinguishes Siberia and other areas of Northern Europe and North America and which due to rising temperatures, would have melted.

In the meantime, an investigation has been launched to investigate the causes of the accident and three managers of the plant, including director Pavel Smirnov, have been arrested: according to investigators, major repairs to the plant should have been carried out in 2018, but the executives did nothing and continued to make it work while knowing the possible risks.

Environmentalists have accused the company of using global warming as an excuse for failing to take responsibility for failing to make adequate checks on the stability of the facility. Both WWF and Greenpeace said that the risk that the permafrost would melt and lead to the collapse of buildings was known to everyone, and that local authorities and society could have avoided it by acting months earlier by securing the tank.

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