Norilsk, an isolated nickel-mining hub within the far north of Russia, is already well known for its environmental problems. Until very recently the town of 180,000 inhabitants was considered the foremost polluted in Russia. Dirty water and foul rivers are certainly not a new phenomenon. But the size of this leak is set to go away another scar on the local environment for several generations to return .
“It will take tons of effort and a number of other billions of roubles to wash things up,” Mr Blokov said. “The rivers are going to be polluted and you’ll expect anything to grow within the contaminated areas for decades, perhaps many years.”
Officials have yet to present a transparent plan about how they shall take care of the problem. In his painful conversation with Mr Putin, governor Uss said authorities could be left with no choice but to burn the fuel – a thought with obvious and concerning climatic consequences. He admitted the thought had not been tried before and there was no guarantee of success.
More senior officialdom later played down such an opportunity . Dmitry Kobylkin, Russia’s resources and environment minister, said he “didn’t understand” the logic of burning huge quantities of fuel in an Arctic region: “A huge fire over an enormous area, with an enormous quantity of fuel may be a huge problem.”
Greenpeace’s Blokov said Mr Uss’s alarming comments demonstrated the extent to which the problem had got out of hand. The immediate task was stopping the leak, he added, only then could emergency teams believe next steps. In an “ideal world”, that might be to pump and separate the contaminated water, but how possible that was “no one knows”.
”It’s one among those cases that there’s no obvious good solution,” he said.