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9 Sep, 2008 02:07

Baikalsk Mill likely to miss September cleanup deadline

A major industrial polluter of the world's largest freshwater lake is set to miss the government's September deadline to clean up its act. Experts say only the sheer size of Russia's Lake Baikal is saving it from critical damage by the Baikalsk Pulp and P

The Baikalsk Mill bleaches paper with chlorine and pours the waste into Lake Baikal, home to one fifth of the world's fresh water.

The mill owner, Russia's richest man Oleg Deripaska, pledged to launch an unbleached “closed water system” on Tuesday, days before a government deadline. But Marina Rikhvanova, Co-Chair, Baikal Environmental Wave there are fears the plant will dodge the ban.

“They’ve been breaking promises to switch to an unbleached closed cycle for years.”

Coal-fired power plants and other nearby industries also pump levels of dioxin lethal to Baikal's unique ecosystem, but the Baikalsk Mill is the biggest single threat. Factory CEO Andrey Dribny refused requests for an interview. Deep-water tests last week found Baikal quote “far cleaner” than feared. Dr. Mikhail Grachev, Director of the Limnological Institute says its vast expanse acts as a shield.

“Many towns pump purified waste into the lake but, to give you a crude example, if you put all of humanity, all people, into the lake it would only raise its level 1cm.”

An oil pipeline was diverted from a route near the lake after scientists like Dr. Grachev warned of the consequences of a spill on Baikal. Government plans for an International Uranium Enrichment Centre 100 kilometres from the shore have been added to activist hitlists, alongside the fight to close the paper mill.

The stormy relationship between Baikal and the industry it supports continues. The introduction of the closed water system is reportedly being put back several weeks at least. A demonstration against the plant is planned here on Thursday.