Russia will test air quality monitoring system in Norilsk with view to going nationwide

The Nornickel metals facility in the Arctic city has long been a major source of pollution.

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The logo of Russia’s miner Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017 (SPIEF 2017) in St. Petersburg, Russia on June 1, 2017. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters File Photo)

MOSCOW — Russia will start testing a potentially nationwide real-time system to monitor air quality at metals giant Nornickel’s base in the industrial Arctic city of Norilsk next year, the company and a government official said on Thursday.

Nornickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer, has been a major emitter of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in Norilsk, its main production base since Soviet times and which for years earned it the rank of the world’s most polluted city.

A diesel spill at its power plant in the same area last year caused Russia’s worst environmental disaster in the Arctic this century.

The company is now working with the Russian government to develop the air quality system which, if deemed successful, will eventually operate nationwide as part of a national environmental project.

“Today, the air quality data is generated manually. Our task is to create a unified system that will automatically record emissions, eliminating the human factor,” Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko said at the signing ceremony at the government.

“Our monitoring system, which allows anyone to assess air quality near Nornickel’s operations, is now at a high level of readiness. And we are ready to provide our expertise for the experiment,” Vladimir Potanin, Nornickel’s largest shareholder and its chief executive, said at the same event.

Nornickel paid $2 billion to the Russian government for environmental damages after 21,000 tonnes of diesel from a storage tank at its power plant near Norilsk leaked into rivers and subsoil in May 2020.

The company is currently investing billions of dollars to reduce SO2 emissions in the Norilsk area by 90 percent from the 2015 level by 2025.

In March, Nornickel shut down its metals processing facility in Russia’s border region with Norway and Finland which had been the area’s main source of SO2 emissions. These would drop there by 85 percent in 2021 as a result, it said.