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Journalists condemn attempts to cover up environmental damage from Norilsk fuel spill

Source: Meduza

Journalists from the media association Syndicate-100 have issued a statement condemning attempts to cover up the scale of the ecological damage resulting from the massive fuel spill that took place at a Norilsk Nickel subsidiary in the Russian Arctic at the end of May.

Syndicate-100 highlighted the actions of employees at the Norilsk airport, who prevented Moscow City Duma Deputy Sergey Mitrokhin from taking soil and water samples collected by Novaya Gazeta journalists and Greenpeace ecologists for analysis. Airport officials told Mitrokhin that he needed to obtain permission from Norilsk Nickel to ship the samples, since “Nornickel decides what can be shipped and what cannot.”

“In this regard, [we] would like to recall that Norilsk is still a city within the Russian Federation. And Russia’s laws should be applicable on its territory,” Syndicate-100 stated, adding that the law on state secrets prohibits classifying information about the state of the environment, and that the Russian Criminal Code establishes liability for the obstruction of lawful journalistic activities.

Syndicate-100 also noted that on three different occasions, local law enforcement attempted to arrest journalists from Novaya Gazeta who had come to Norilsk to report on the ecological catastrophe. “What are Nornickel and the local security forces under it so afraid of? Nornickel’s corporate ethics are being placed above federal laws. What is this, corporate separatism?” the Syndicate-100 statement said. 

The association is also calling on the Russian Investigative Committee “to figure out, how [the main shareholder and president of Nornickel] Vladimir Potanin managed to build a separate state with its own laws in Taimyr.”

At the end of May, approximately 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled out of a damaged reservoir at the Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company’s Thermal Power Plant No. 3 in Norilsk, spreading into the surrounding soil and waterways. Local authorities took several days to respond to the accident. Since then, a number of criminal cases have been launched over the spill, including against employees at the plant and the mayor of Norilsk.

On June 28, journalists from the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, as well as environmental activists, discovered that another Nornickel subsidiary — the Talnakh Concentrator Plant — is draining industrial wastewater from its storage facilities into the local environment. Nornickel acknowledged this as a flagrant violation. The Russia Investigative Committee has since launched an inquiry into the dumping of industrial waste. 

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