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Fuel spill in Siberia to cost Nornickel over $150 million

Containment bons in the Ambarnaya river. (Image courtesy of Nornickel).

Clean-up costs for the fuel spill that took place in late May at Nornickel’s Heat and Power Plant № 3 near Norilsk, in north-central Russia, add up to $150 million, according to information released by the company this week.

To this amount, the company will have to add a series of financial penalties that will be calculated upon full investigation by the government’s Environment Supervision Agency (Rosprirodnadzor), whose assessment is expected on June 26, 2020.  

Ever since the accident took place on May 29, crews have been working on removing the 20,000 tonnes of diesel that leaked from the reservoir into the nearby areas, contaminating land and rivers that drain into a lake linked to the Kara Sea. 

According to Nornickel, over 650 people, including emergency personnel from the Marine Rescue Service, Gazpromneft and Transneft, and 250 equipment items are involved in the clean-up, which is expected to take about two weeks to be completed. 

At present, the work is centred on removing contaminated soil and storing it in a special facility, while at the same time replacing the dirty soil with a clean one that has been treated with absorbent chemicals.

Reports state that over 23,000 tonnes of contaminated soil have been removed and a 33,000-square-metre area has been treated with sorbents.

Nornickel also reported that 18 lines of containment bons have been installed at the Ambarnaya river. On the riverside, the miner has also placed 24 tanks to store the mixture of water and fuel, as over 5,200 cubic metres of the liquid have been recovered from the waterbody. 

Ambarnaya flows in a northerly direction into Lake Pyasino. On leaving Lake Pyasino, the waters emerge as the river Pyasina. The latter, flows into the Pyasino Gulf of the Kara Sea. Nornickel assures that the spill has not reached Lake Pyasino and that there is no risk of pollution of the Kara Sea.

To deal with the mixture of water and fuel stored on Ambarnaya’s shore, Nornickel is considering either building a pipeline to transport it or storing it until the winter. If the second option is the chosen one, the mix would be transported later to Norilsk and processed using special equipment to separate fuel from water.

The causes of the spill

On May 29, at around noon, the sudden sinking of supporting posts in the basement of the storage tank at the Heat and Power Plant № 3 (HPP-3) caused 20,000 tonnes of diesel to leak from the reservoir.

The plant is operated by Nornickel’s subsidiary Norilsk-Taymyr Energy Company and it is located in the remote Kayerkan neighbourhood.

According to the company’s assessment, the accident could have been caused by the thawing of permafrost which resulted in the sinking of the support posts. The reservoir was built in 1985 and underwent repairs in 2017-2018.