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Russian Arctic City Mayor Charged With Negligence Over Fuel Spill

Russia's Investigative Committee has accused Norilsk Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin of failures in coordinating and organizing emergency measures after the fuel spill. (file photo)
Russia's Investigative Committee has accused Norilsk Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin of failures in coordinating and organizing emergency measures after the fuel spill. (file photo)

The mayor of the Arctic city of Norilsk has been charged with negligence over his response to a spill that dumped thousands of tons of diesel fuel into local waterways in late May, Russian investigators say.

In a statement on June 11, Russia's Investigative Committee accused Rinat Akhmetchin of failing to coordinate and organize emergency measures to contain and control fallout from the leakage.

The disaster occurred on May 29, when a holding tank at a thermal power plant near the industrial city of Norilsk spilled at least 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the soil, two rivers, and a downstream lake.

The power plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world's leading nickel and palladium producer, which said the leak was caused when pillars supporting a storage tank sank due to thawing permafrost soil.

The Prosecutor-General's Office has also issued preliminary findings revealing that sagging ground helped trigger the disaster.

The Investigative Committee did not say whether Akhmetchin had been arrested.

The mayor, who has headed Norilsk since 2017, faces up to six months in prison if convicted.

The charges come a day after investigators arrested three managers at the power station on suspicion of violating environmental-protection rules.

The three are suspected of having continued to use an unsafe fuel-storage tank that had needed repairs since 2018.

Another manager at the facility was arrested and charged earlier this month.

State Of Emergency

President Vladimir Putin ordered a state of emergency after the extent of the spill became known and Norilsk Nickel has since promised to pay for the costs of the cleanup, estimated at 10 billion rubles ($145 million).

Norilsk Nickel is owned by Russia’s richest man, Vladimir Potanin. The company denies allegations that management hushed up and downplayed the scale of the disaster for at least two days after the accident.

The company has said that the fuel-storage tank was repaired in 2017 and 2018, after which it went through a safety audit.

Regional officials say oil booms and other cleanup operations have failed to prevent all the spilled fuel and chemicals from flowing from the Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers into Lake Pyasino.

Separately, the Emergency Situations Ministry said on June 10 that 14 countries, including the United States, have provided satellite data on the spill to aid in the response.

The ecological disaster came as temperatures in Siberia were up to 10 degrees Celsius above average in May and were also higher than normal earlier in the year, leading to thawing permafrost.

Sixty five percent of Russia is covered by permafrost. Norilsk, an isolated Arctic city, is constructed on permafrost and its infrastructure is threatened by climate change.

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