Fuel leak risk at Arctic mining site flagged by Russia years before spill

The safety watchdog Rostekhnadzor found several major violation during recent spot checks.

By Tom Balmforth, Reuters, Polina Devitt, Reuters - June 5, 2020

MOSCOW — A Russian safety watchdog warned a subsidiary of mining giant Norilsk Nickel in 2017-2018 about dozens of violations at a fuel site in the Arctic where a huge leak of diesel fuel occurred last week, the RBC media portal reported on Friday.

Greenpeace has compared the scale of the accident, which saw 15,000 tonnes of fuel spill into rivers and 6,000 tonnes into subsoil near the remote northern Russian city of Norilsk, to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

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President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency in the region and upbraided a senior official on television over what he said was a bungled state response.

Norilsk Nickel, whose share price has been hit by the incident, has said melting permafrost driven by climate change may have eroded the foundations of a fuel tank at a power station in Norilsk, causing it to lose pressure and spill out the diesel fuel.

Environmental scientists have warned for years that climate change causing the Arctic to warm faster than other areas of the world poses a threat to infrastructure built on permafrost.

Rostekhnadzor, a safety watchdog, carried out three major spot checks in 2017-2018 at the power station operated by the Norilsk Nickel subsidiary and found an array of violations, including ones that concerned fuel tanks at the site, RBC reported.

The power station was found, among other violations, to have failed to clean rust off the walls and roofs of some of its fuel tanks as it had been instructed to do by authorities years earlier, it said.

Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer, says that such violations had not been identified at the fuel tank that lost pressure however, but concerned other fuel tanks, the media portal reported.