MURMANSK –Vladimir Potanin, chairman of the giant and notoriously polluting Norilsk Nickel, has said his company’s biggest problem is environmental – and he knows how to fix it.
The company is looking stem sulfur dioxide emission that pollute Northwest Russia and Northern Norway by shutting down its nickel smelting facility in the Murmansk regional industrial town of Nikel.
In an interview to the business daily Vedomosti, Potanin said in order to transform Norilsk Nickel from a polluter into an example of ecological cleanliness, he’s willing to spend up to $14 billion in a process that he says should take about seven years.
The company’s biggest problem, he acknowledged, were its emission of the heavy metal sulfur dioxide in Norilsk, in Northern Siberia, and on the Kola Peninsula around Murmansk at its daughter facilities at the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Company, or KMMC.
Credit: Thomas Nilsen for Bellona
Environmental organizations and citizens of Northern Norway have long demanded these emissions cuts. Scientists have indicated the KMMC’s emissions routinely exceed accepted norms in Norway by five times.
The emissions have fired up local actions in Northern Norway against the industrial giant. In 2013, Cecilie Hansen, then the mayor of Sør-Varanger in Northern Norway, threatened to bring suit against the company.
This year, residents of the same city called on the government in Oslo to levy more economic sanctions against Russia over the pollution and prevent Potanin and other business people associated with Norilsk Nickel from travelling in Europe.
Potanin told Vedomosti this week that closing earlier this year of the aged nickel smelting plant in the city of Norilsk has already significantly reduced the company’s emissions.
The closure, he said, necessitated the reconstruction of the company’s metallurgical facility in the city of Nadezhdisk, which up-ticked the Norilsk Nickel’s ore conditioning.
An agglomerating plant in the Murmansk region was also shut down. This necessitated the completion and launch of a line of briquetting concentrate. The construction of this installation has, according to the company, reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide from the Kola Peninsula’s Zaployarny and Nikel industrial cities by 35,000 tons a year.
Bellona has often observed that nickel and other metals produced by Norilsk Nickel are needed worldwide. Nickel is necessary to produce batteries for electric car. Other metals produced by the giant corporation are needed for a host of other alternative energy staples, like wind generators.
Tesla Motors and Apple computers demand that production of the nickel they use for batteries come from environmentally clean source. That’s especially urgent for Norilsk Nickel, which has for years polluted the Arctic region while producing a third of the world’s nickel. Its new tack toward environmental responsibility is therefore an effort necessary to maintain profit.
Potanin’s interview follows broad promises from the KMMC to cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by half by 2019.
How the KMMC will reach these reductions remains unclear. One possible route is shutting down the company’s nickel smelting shop in the Kola Peninsula industrial town of Nikel, Potanin told Vedomosti.
“We’re ready to go father and are looking at the possibility of closing smelting in the town of Nikel after 2019 on the model of closing the nickel plant in Norilsk,” Potanin said. “
Getting this this point isn’t just a financial challenge. There’s the issue of jobs as well. Closing down significant KMMC facilities will require programs for those whose jobs will disappear.
Regional Duma member Andrei Fomenko said in a local television interview that Nikel residents frequently complain of smog arising from the smelting shops old equipment. He suggested that the closure of the nickel smelting works may lead to a boom in ecological tourism.