Russia’s head natural resource official visiting Murmansk for discussions on Norilsk Nickel pollution

ingressimage_by2-copy.jpg Photo: Bellona archive

Malyshevsky’s trip comes at the recommendation of a Russian-Norwegian seminar held in early July in Oslo, which discussed cross-border pollution emanating from the Russian industrial Giant Norilsk Nickel’s smelting divisions in the Murmansk region towns of Pechenga and Nikel.

On July 23, Norilsk Nickel signed a memorandum of understanding with the Italian Techint Group in the presence of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his Italian counterpart Mario Monti.

A month previous to this, Norilsk Nickel signed a contract with Techint Compagnia Tecnica Internazionale S.p.A. to complete a project that would significantly reduce the smelting plants’ emission of toxic sulfur dioxide as part of a gradual emissions reduction program for the metallurgical plants in the city of Norilsk.

The project foresees that at some 95 percent of harmful sulfur dioxide will be scrubbed from the company’s emissions at its Medny factory and its Nadezhdinsk metallurgical plant – reducing the emissions by some 950 tons of sulfur dioxide a year.

Norilsk Nickel General Director Vladimir Strzhalkovsky said the company is interested in modernizing production at its enterprises, protecting the environment and introducing European environmental standards and demands.

This encouraging news for the northerly city of Nikel is an occasion to recall the Russian-Norwegian seminar in Oslo.

Organized by the Norwegian Environmental Ministry, participants in the seminar included representatives of Russia’s Rosprirodnadzor, Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Kola Mining & Metallurgical Company (or Kola MMC). Norwegian representation at the seminar included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Environment, Norway’s climate change and pollution directorate, and other officials.

The goal of the seminar was “achieving a base understanding of ecological conditions in the border region and the development of measures for reducing emissions from the Kola MMC,” as described on Rosprirodnadzor’s website. 

Ogla Podgurskaya, deputy head of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resource’s Department of State Policy and Regular in the Sphere of Environmental Protection and Environmental Safety said in her remarks that “the lack of an effective system of government management for ecological and economic growth is leading to environmental deterioration and increased illness among the population.”

Incomplete state oversight of polluters

In her presentation, Podgurskaya singled out the fundamental problems in environmental regulations and pollution control:

-Standards set regarding the quality of the environment, and those of environmental impact as based on environment quality standards, are stricter than worldwide;

-The system in place to set environmental impact limit is subjective and allows for unrestrained impact on the part of industrial enterprises;

– Fines for harmful environmental impact do not incentivize enterprises to introduce green technologies;

-No economic stimuli are in place to spur enterprises’ transition to toward the best technologies available;

-State ecological supervision does not operate on objective information on the real scale of emissions and waste discharges;

-The investment climate is made worse by the many existing administrative barriers.

Russia has begun the work of finalizing and introducing regulations for the environment and pursuing economic stimulus for industrial installations to utilize the best possible technology. In October 2011, a bill was introduced to this effect, and it remains to be hoped it does not get lost in the shuffle.

Emissions are the main problem

According to Malyshevsky, emissions of sulfur dioxide from the Kola MMC remain a fundamental environmental problem.

“Today, the company is responsible for harmful atmospheric emissions at two at two industrial sites – Zapolyarny and Nikel- based on temporary one-year permits issued March 2012,” he said in his introductory remarks at the July seminar.  “The temporary agreement on sulfur dioxide – the mot problematic component of the emissions (more than 80 percent of all emissions) – is established at the Zapolyarny site at 40,100 tons per year, at Nikel at a level of 77,500 tons per year.” 

The seminar’s results

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The sides struck a common understanding on the necessity of further monitoring the condition of the environment, including and with an eye to clarifying critical loads. To substantiate the flow of emissions for the Kola MMC, it was suggested to include in the assessment of effectiveness of realized and planned measures for reducing emissions the methodology of modernization spelled out in the UN Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.

A new expert meeting should take place in autumn of 2012 in Murmansk, according to the results of the July seminar as summarized on Rosprirodnazor’s website.

According to Malyshevsky the Kola MMC indeed has a problem with toxic emissions.

“Dangerous emissions must me reduced,” he said in his closing remarks. “The company should on a planned basis facilitate the implementation of contemporary technology for emissions reductions.”

One of the recommendations coming out of the seminar was that Malyshevsky visit the Kola MMC and discuss with local environmental groups the effectiveness of proposed pollution reduction measures for the company.

The Kola MMC and NGOs

Larisa Bronder, a specialist on the Kola MMC with Bellona’s Oslo office, said, “Dialogue between the Russian and Norwegian sides on the problems of the emissions of polluting substances in the near-border territory inspire some optimism.”

“It is important that a conversation about the participation of NGOs in this process is taking place,” she continued. “In Norway, much attention is devoted to the participation of civil society in decided all manner of questions.”

Bronder said that Bellona understands the strategic importance to Russia of the Kola MMC, as it is the area’s foremost source of jobs.

“We can’t have a conversation about terminating the operation of the area’s main employer,” she said, adding that “We think production modernization in Zapolyarny and Nikel is what today can reduce the problem of sulfur dioxide emissions and lessen negative impacts on the environment and people’s health.”

In October 2011, Bellona and the Kola MMC held a joint seminar in an effort to find a cooperative approach to the problem of cross-border pollution.  

The Kola MMC demonstrated a fair share of openness: The seminar was held in the near-border town of Zapolyarny where the enterprises of the company are the anchors of the community – participants in the seminar were able to visit the construction site of the briquette-making workshop, where commissioning work is already underway. Briquettes will be instrumental in absorbing excess sulfur dioxide when the technology is put in place.

Bellona President Frederic Hauge, who took part in the seminar, emphasized in his remarks that, “The whole world needs what Norilsk Nickel produces. The metals they produce are necessary, specifically, for the development of clean energy technologies and renewable sources of energy.”

“But the company is obligated to cut its sulfur dioxide emissions,” Hauge continued. “The level of today’s emissions is unacceptable. 

July of this year was distinguished by two important events aimed at reducing pollution from Norilsk Nickel.  If contracts are already in place relative to production in Norilsk, then as far as the Murmansk Region is concerned, dialogue with Kola MMC is in line to be renewed.

Bronder noted that for Norilsk Nikel, which strives to occupy an important place in international business, it is no less important that they reach for a better environmental reputation.

“The result is important for both sides  – understanding the necessity of conducting such seminars and the determination of realizing concrete projects” for pollution reduction.

Bellona

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