Russia’s Norilsk Nickel and Bellona holding seminar on continued cross border pollution

Publish date: October 26, 2011

ZAPOLYARNY, Kola Peninsula – Today the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company (GMK), a division of the smelting giant Norilsk Nickel, discussed the environmental problems surrounding its metal works on the Peninsula at a jointly arranged seminar between the firm and Bellona.

The seminar was joined by municipal authorities from the Pechenga Region of the Kola Peninsual and the Northern Norwegian County of Finnmark as well as scientists and researchers.

The seminar’s name reflects its goal: “Interaction between governmental structures, business, academia and civil society – an instrument for improving environmental safety in the region.”

During his opening remark, Kola GMK’s director Aleksei Tolstykh, said in particular, that that Severonickel, in the Monchegorsk Region, was assigned the so-called yellow zone, as per hot spot classification by the Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation (NefCo) and the Arctic Monitoring and Assesment Programme(AMAP).  Prior to this, Severonickel was exclusively classified as a red hot spot.

Hot spots are ecological sites that have been polluted and pose a health risk to those who live near them, either because of the direct impact or potential to poison the drinking water or other food chain.

In 2003, NefCo and AMAP cooperatively defined the hot spots in the Barents Sea region, and assigned them color codes, red being the most serious.

Bellona has learned that NefCo and AMAP are not entirely in agreement on the exchange of colors for Severonickel.

Bente Christiansen, head of the Finnmark’s division of environmental administration,  said that the concentration of pollutants in the area of he Pasvik River has not decreases for the last nine years. Christiansen insisted on the necessity of collecting new data throughout autumn and winter. Finnmark residents are extremely concerned about the level of pollutants in their drinking water.

Annual emissions from the Pechenga branch of Norlisk Nickel exceed by five times the entire annual emissions of Norway. Cross-border cooperation is extremely important for Finnmark, said Christiansen. Her presentation can be found here.

Mikhail Shkondin, head of Kola GMK’s environmental safety division seemed at the seminar not to sympathize with the environmental concerns of his Norwegian neighbors, and attempted to reassure those in attendance that the Kola GMK is doing much for the environment.

Shkondin further enumerated official data by the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring from 2009 to 2010 that did not indicate any rise in pollution and said that the data further showed that Sulfur dioxides in the atmosphere were lower than the sanitary norm. In 2011 alone, production was halted 50 times (for a total of 417 hours) for the benefit of environment, according to Shkondin.

After Shkondin’s remarks, Nataliya Dvornikova of the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring flatly contradicted his words, saying she was “forced to state that the level of sulfur dioxide contamination in the regions of the Kola Peninsula towns of Nickel, Zapolarny, and in the Monchegorsk Region [where the Kola GMK is active,] as well as levels of formaldehyde, exceed norms by three times.”

Tore Berglen, a representative of the Norwgian Insitute for Air Research (NILU) presented a report indicating that the quality of the atmosphere along the Norwegian-Russian border last winter did not meet with Norwegian legal standards. He stated that pollutants had increased.

After a recess in the seminar, Kola GMK’s Tolstykh again addresses the seminar. He spoke of investment projects and environmental programmes at the Kola GMK that will be economically beneficial and will reduce the load on the local environment.

Karl Kristensen, a Bellona expert, abandoned diplomacy and said directly that the company has a lot of work ahead of it to right the situation as well as its reputation. His report can be viewed here. Specifically he noted that the sulfur oxide emissions from Kola GMK alone exceed those of the entirety of Norway by 10 times. He said that the miserable environmental situation surrounding Norlisk Nickel’s enterprises – including the Kola GMK – give the impression that the company is simply losing interest. If Norilsk Nickel intends to become a respected international corporation, it must adhere to strict environmental standards.

Vladimir Chizhov, the director of the Pasvik nature preserve told the seminar about his cooperation with the Kola GMK. The cooperation began in 2006 and includes environmental monitoring and research, as laid out in his report.

Chizhov was joined in his presentation by Ivan Zatsarinny, deputy director of the laboratory of theRyazan Evolutionary-Ecological University. According to them both, the species diversity in the observed area is no cause for alarm.

Further, Larisa Bronder, the head of Bellona’s industrial pollution project had the opportunity to ask questions. She requested an explanation for the difference in status assigned to Severonickel on the so-called NefCo/AMAP list of environmental hot spots. As noted earlier in the seminar, the Kola GMK has said that Severonickel has been reassigned the code color of yellow, a cleaner status than the red status it previously bore. She further noted that NefCo/AMAP had not confirmed this change in status.

Pavel Yegorov, head of scientific-technical development and environmental safety at the Kola GMK, responded that NefCo is a financial structure and is thus motivated by financial interests. But he was corrected by others who said that NefCo’s decisions are taken on a governmental level. Tolsykh even announced that after an unsuccessful experience with inter-governmental agreement between Russia and Norway on the reconstruction of Pechenganickel, the company would finance environmental projects itself.

Bellona St.Petersburg’s lawyer Nina Popravko was next to take the floor. She spoke of the necessity to adopt the federal law “On Ecological Safety” and a raft of other legislation. She said that despite the fact that there is legislation allowing the public to access information on the state of the environment, it is often disregarded. She cited concrete examples of Bellona Web’s efforts to obtain information from the Kola GMK, which were repeatedly refused by the company on grounds of commercial secrecy. Propravko’s report is available here.

Concluding the first day of the seminar, Bellona President Frederic Hauge shared his impressions.

“Non-governmental organizations began examining the problem of Pechenganickel as early as the 1990s. In those days in Kirkeness, an active group of citizens called “Stop the Death Clouds” was formed,” said Hauge. Pechenganickel is located a mere seven kilometres from the Norwegian border.   

“But there is much that remains to be done. According to the information we have heard today, modernization at Pechenganickel will not occur for at least five years. And in Finnmark, they notice this. In conjunction with increased production at this enterprise, emissions are rising by 30,000 tons a year. On the other hand, emissions in Zapolyarny, where modernization is being undertaken, are  decreasing by just as much,” said Hauge.

“The first day [of the seminar] has shown that Norilsk Nickel is ready for dialog and we are pleased with that. The Russian participants have made the impression that they truly want to solve the mounting problem,” Hauge said.