Nornickel shutters dirty copper smelter in push to go greener

Image courtesy of Nornickel’s Instagram

MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC is shutting its oldest copper smelter amid mounting pressure for metals producers to clean up their aging and dirtiest operations.

The facility in Nickel on the Kola Peninsula near the Norwegian and Finnish borders was partly why Norway’s sovereign wealth fund blacklisted the miner a decade ago. Wednesday’s closure of the smelter — which had been announced a year ago — will help Nornickel to cut sulfur-dioxide emissions in the area by 85% from 2015 levels, when it started its current ecological program.

Nornickel plans to build a new copper line on the Kola Peninsula by 2025

Investors are putting greater scrutiny on Nornickel’s environmental plans, especially after a massive Arctic fuel spill at one of its units in May that infuriated President Vladimir Putin and prompted a fine from the country’s watchdog. While the company’s carbon-dioxide emissions are relatively small, it’s one of the largest polluters of sulphur dioxide, which can cause acid rain.

Nornickel has pledged to invest about $5 billion in the next decade to improve its environmental footprint, including building a sulfur-capturing facility in the city of Norilsk and closing dirty lines on the Kola Peninsula.

The Nickel smelter is the second outdated facility Nornickel is closing permanently, after shuttering a nickel plant in Norilsk in 2016. The company next plans to idle its outdated and environmentally unsafe copper line in Monchegorsk, also on the Kola Peninsula, Vice President for Strategy Sergey Dubovitsky said in a recent interview.

Metals production in Nickel dates back to the 1930s, when the area was part of Finland, and the current facilities began operating in the 1960s. In 2009, Norway excluded Nornickel from its sovereign wealth fund over environmental damage, though the company has since cut emissions by reducing output at older lines.

Nornickel plans to build a new copper line on the Kola Peninsula by 2025, and before that starts copper output will be moved to the Polar division, where facilities have been upgraded. About 600 workers that were employed at the Nickel smelter were offered new jobs in the company or area.

(By Yuliya Fedorinova)

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