MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Interview - Norilsk will Become Cleaner, but not Overnight

Published by MAC on 2005-10-12

Interview - Norilsk will Become Cleaner, but not Overnight

Story by Maria Golovnina, Planet Ark (Reuters)

October 12, 2005

MOSCOW - Norilsk Nickel, one of Russia's heaviest industrial polluters, has earmarked billions of dollars to turn itself into a greener company -- but the ambitious changes won't happen overnight.

Zhak Rozenberg, Norilsk's deputy general director, told Reuters the company would spend as much as 100 billion roubles ($3.5 billion) by 2015 on ecology-related projects at its huge Soviet-era plants lying north of the Arctic Circle.

"We were set up at a time when ... there was no ecological ideology, when the Soviet Union had an entirely different agenda," Rozenberg, who supervises Norilsk's green projects, said in an interview.

"As a global company we certainly have to accept global standards. That's why we are introducing international technology at our facilities. But one can't force us to drop everything else and achieve that overnight."

Norilsk, the world's biggest producer of nickel and palladium, has long been under Western pressure to do more to cut emissions at its operations around Norilsk -- the world's second largest city above the Arctic Circle after Murmansk.

Norilsk says it has become more ecologically aware since its Arctic production sites -- set up in the 1930s by prison labour -- were taken over in the 1990s by managers who wanted to build a more competitive and westernised company.

"We are doing all we can for the company to achieve high international standards for ecology by 2015 and turn into a competitive company in all respects," Rozenberg said. Norilsk expects to reduce atmospheric emissions of sulphur dioxide on the Taimyr peninsula by 78 per cent by 2015, and by more than 90 percent on the Kola peninsula by mid-2008.

Winds

Critics say the economic chaos of the 1990s and Norilsk's focus on production growth have put off clean-up efforts, with some ecologists saying toxic dust from Norilsk's smelters can be detected as far away as Canada.

Rozenberg said more scientific work needed to be done to establish whether those concerns were justified.

"The Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences has been studying these processes in the past three years and has shown that sulphur dioxide can spread for about 80 km (50 miles)," he said. "This data is being studied and analysed at the moment."

Rozenberg said that Norilsk, while seeking to raise output, will shut down a number of outdated production and processing facilities and reduce the amount of sulphur emissions resulting from the smelting process.

Norilsk is also working with the Norwegian government on a project to cut noxious emissions in Kola and plans to reduce water use at its plants.

"Ecological problems are not ecological problems as such. They come as a result of unsatisfactory technology," he said.

"That's why ... we are looking for ways of improving that technology which would allow us -- and that's a dream -- to produce so little (sulphur) dioxide as to be harmless for the environment."

Since 1996, Norilsk has cut emissions of solid waste per tonne of produced metal by 60.4 percent, while gas consumption fell by 42.4 percent.

Rozenberg played down international pressure on the company, saying that Norilsk's ecology projects were in line with Russia's broader social priorities of raising living standards.

"When talking about the globalisation of ecology we have to consider our national interests first, and that's a combination of ecological, social and economic policies," he said.

"First of all we have to improve the lives of people who work for us, improve their living environment, and at the same time think about forests, water and grass. Ecological and economic projects have to be harmonised.

"Otherwise we might as well return to the stone age, sit by a crystal clear river all day, eat absolutely ecologically clean fish, and that would be it."

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