What happened in Norilsk stays in Norilsk: Russia battles to contain fallout from the Arctic’s worst environmental disaster

As Putin takes hands-on control of disaster response in Norilsk, a close ally tells the west to keep its distance, Oliver Carroll reports

Sunday 14 June 2020 17:58
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A containment boom tackles the oil spill in the Ambarnaya river outside of Norilsk
A containment boom tackles the oil spill in the Ambarnaya river outside of Norilsk

Two weeks ago, a diesel reservoir failed at a power plant outside Norilsk, Russia’s northernmost city, causing 21,000 tonnes of fuel to outflow into two rivers. It was the Arctic’s worst-ever environmental catastrophe.

Muddled initial reports suggested a car had crashed into the side of the container tower. Witnesses and common sense – the road is dozens of metres away – suggested otherwise.

The not-so-immediate response of authorities added to a sense of confusion. Emergency services were filmed at the scene from the first hours on 29 May, and they sent reports to the regional bosses – who then claimed not to have received them. An official from the local environmental inspectorate arrived later the same evening; his shocking photos from the scene were widely shared across social media by the next morning.

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