Russia temporarily halts parts of Nornickel power unit after fuel spill

The partial shutdown shouldn't affect power supply or mine production, Nornickel said.

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A view shows water barriers during recovery works following a diesel fuel leak at a thermal power station near Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Region, Russia in this handout picture obtained by Reuters June 11, 2020. (Russian Emergencies Ministry / Handout via Reuters)

MOSCOW — Russia’s safety watchdog on Friday ordered a power unit of mining giant Norilsk Nickel to suspend operations at six facilities for 90 days for violating safety rules, following a fuel spill in the Arctic.

A fuel tank lost pressure on May 29 and unleashed 21,000 tonnes of diesel into rivers and subsoil near the city of Norilsk, an incident that Greenpeace has compared to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

Nornickel said the requested changes to improve safety by the Rostekhnadzor watchdog were already in its working plan to prepare for the winter season in the Norilsk region.

The watchdog’s decision will not affect the power supply of the region, it added, meaning production should not be affected.

Rostekhnadzor’s specialists were due to discuss the requested changes with managers of the power unit, called NTEK, in Moscow later on Friday.

The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers, and President Vladimir Putin has said the scale of the clean-up operation is unprecedented for Russia.

According to Nornickel’s estimate, over 90 percent of spilled fuel has been collected and removed so far.

It previously said the accident was caused by a thaw in the permafrost weakening the foundations of a storage tank and is now developing a system to monitor the condition of the permafrost.

Reporting by Maria Grabar and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Polina Devitt and Alexander Marrow.