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Russian Metallurgical Giant Ordered To Pay Record $1.9 Billion For Devastating Fuel Spill

The ecological catastrophe occurred last year when an aged fuel tank at the Norilsk Nickel plant released 21,000 tons of diesel into the Arctic subsoil and the waters of the nearby Ambarnaya River. (file photo).

A court in Siberia has ordered Russian metallurgical giant Norilsk Nickel, owned by Russia's richest man, Vladimir Potanin, to pay more than 146 billion rubles ($1.9 billion) for a spill that dumped thousands of tons of diesel fuel into the Russian Arctic last year.

The Krasnoyarsk city court of arbitration on February 5 ruled that almost all of the sum, the largest legal award in Russian history, must go to the Federal Treasury, while around 1.3 billion rubles ($17 million) must go the budget of the city of Norilsk, where more than 21,000 tons of diesel leaked into the environment from a tank at a thermal power plant in May last year.

Russia's environmental watchdog, Rosprirodnadzor, originally sought 148 billion rubles from Norilsk in compensation for the spill, one of the worst ecological disasters to occur in the Arctic.

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

However, in November, Russia's nuclear and environmental watchdog Rostechnadzor concluded that the disaster was caused by "interrelated technical and organizational violations committed both at the stage of tank construction and during its operation."

In the wake of the disaster, President Vladimir Putin ordered a state of emergency after the extent of the spill became known.

Norilsk Nickel initially promised to pay for the cleanup, but has disputed the environmental cost of the spill by Rosprirodnadzor.

Norilsk estimated the damages were only about 21 billion rubles during its testimony in court.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax