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7 Jun, 2020 01:56

Over 700 tons of oil & contaminated water collected at Norilsk fuel spill site

Over 700 tons of oil & contaminated water collected at Norilsk fuel spill site

Russian emergency services have collected more than 700 tons of dirty water and fuel and decontaminated an area of 14,600 square meters in clean-up efforts after a major diesel spillage at an Arctic power plant.

The May 29 accident saw over 21,000 tons of diesel fuel escaping from a storage tank at the thermal power plant, located 10km from Norilsk, a city above the Arctic Circle in Western Siberia.

It will take about two more weeks to clean up the bulk of the area, Deputy Emergency Minister Aleksandr Chupriyan told Russian media on Saturday. In addition to that, 780 tons of contaminated soil were removed from the area as part of the ongoing mitigation effort. 

Oil products that have been removed from the area are being placed into hermetically sealed barrels, since it is impossible to transport them to disposal sites just yet. They will be stored at the site until the winter, when naturally frozen water surfaces can once again be used as roads. 

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The major oil spill in Norilsk has grabbed international attention due to the expected lasting damage to the environment. The US, which has experienced similar catastrophes in the past, has offered its assistance to Moscow in dealing with the aftermath of the accident. Responding to the offer, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova expressed gratitude to Washington, calling the move “yet another goodwill gesture” which “shows that such mutual cooperation is possible.”   

A federal-level emergency was declared in the region on June 3, five days after diesel stored at the plant leaked from the facility and into the surrounding area, two small rivers and a local lake. The gas-powered plant uses diesel as a backup.

Local authorities and the plant operator – a subsidiary of the Russian metals giant Nornickel – have pointed fingers at each other for failing to address the accident in a timely manner. The company said that it notified the local authorities on the day of the spillage, while the emergencies ministry argued that the plant operator was mum about the incident for two days, wasting valuable time.

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Prosecutors have launched three criminal probes in the aftermath of the incident, including for environmental offenses and contamination of soil and water. A manager in charge of the boiler-and-turbine shop at the plant, who was directly responsible for the damaged tank, has been arrested and taken into custody as the investigation continues.

The plant operator blamed the unusually warm weather for the incident, arguing that the melting permafrost caused the collapse of the reservoir’s foundation. In the meantime, the Russian technical, nuclear and environmental watchdog revealed it had found irregularities in the operation of two tanks used for fuel storage at the plant as far back as in 2017, and said that the company failed to carry out planned repairs that would have seen it tending to the areas damaged by corrosion.

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