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Nornickel Draws Up Permafrost Monitoring Plan After Russian Arctic Fuel Spill

Workers fill a tank for collecting oil-water mixture from the water surface at the site of the spill into the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk on June 7.
Workers fill a tank for collecting oil-water mixture from the water surface at the site of the spill into the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk on June 7.

Russia's Nornickel, one of the world's leading nickel and palladium producers, has unveiled a long-term program to monitor permafrost and remedy environmental damage after an Arctic fuel spill in its home city of Norilsk.

In what has been described as the worst environmental disaster to impact the Arctic, on May 29 more than 21,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into the soil, two rivers, and a downstream lake after a storage tank at a Nornickel-operated power plant collapsed or sank due to what the company said was the thawing permafrost soil.

Two plant managers and two top engineers have been arrested on suspicion of violating environmental-protection rules. The mayor of Norilsk and a government inspector have also been charged with negligence.

Greenpeace has compared the incident to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, and President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency after the incident.

"For several years, Nornickel has been working on reducing its environmental impact. Today we face greater challenges relevant for everyone around the globe -- climate change and its impact on the Arctic region and our operations," Gareth Penny, the chairman of Nornickel's board, said in a statement.

Nornickel also said it had appointed Andrei Bougrov, who has worked at the company since 2013, as its senior vice president for environmental protection.

The company plans to boost its cooperation with Russian and foreign researchers focused on the Arctic ecology and permafrost zones to find solutions and improve the industrial safety in the region, Bougrov said in the statement.

According to Nornickel's estimate, over 90 percent of the spilt fuel has been collected and removed so far.

Officials are yet to rule on the extent of the environmental damage or the cause of the accident, but Greenpeace has estimated it at $1.4 billion.

Nornickel has promised to pay the costs of the cleanup, estimated at 10 billion rubles ($145 million).

Nornickel is owned by Russia's richest man, Vladimir Potanin.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and Interfax
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