MOSCOW | Russia intensified its efforts Thursday to clean up the huge amount of hydrocarbons being discharged into a river from the Arctic, the worst incident of its kind in the region, according to environmentalists, while a local official was placed in custody.
Vladimir Putin intervened personally in the crisis Wednesday, declaring the state of emergency, and recalling to the order of local officials. Clean-up crews were deployed Thursday.
In the course of the investigation, Vyacheslav Starostin, an employee of thermal plant which belongs to NTEK, a subsidiary of the giant metals, Norilsk Nickel, was placed in provisional detention for a month, said a court in the city of Norilsk to the agency TASS.
One of the tanks of the diesel power station collapsed last week, causing a leak of more than 20 000 tonnes of oil.
According to the emergency service Russian navy, who specializes in these accidents, the reinforcements deployed in this very isolated area and swamp in the far North are faced with a complex challenge.
“There has never been a leak like that in the Arctic before. It is necessary to work very quickly, because the fuel is in the process of dissolving it in the water “, indicated to the AFP the spokesperson of the service, Andrey Malov.
The environmental organization Greenpeace Russia says that the accident “is the first of this scale in the Arctic” and has been compared to the sinking of the Exxon Valdez off Alaska in 1989.
The river Ambarnaïa, affected by this leak, joined the lake Piassino, itself at the origin of a river of the same name, which is capital to the peninsula of Taimyr, strategic region where Russia extract precious metals, coal and hydrocarbons.
According to Mr. Malov, six ramps of containment have been placed in the river to block the flow of pollution to the lake, while the fuel is pumped to the surface.
“It is a difficult terrain and all that is to be routed can only be done via all-terrain vehicle “, he pointed out, the fuel collected must be stored on-site until the winter of in special containers.
The difficulty of the operation has prompted some officials to propose burning the fuel on-site, the Russian agency environmental Russian has to be excluded.
The spokesman of the Russian Agency for fisheries, Dmitry Klokov, told the news agency TASS that it would take “decades” to restore the ecosystem.
“The scale of this disaster is under-estimated “, he said, adding that most of the fuel had sunk to the bottom of the river and reached the lake.
The managers of the plant in question had been sermonnés Wednesday for being late to respond. The governor of the region admitted to have learned of the true extent of the spill until two days after, through the social networks.
Three criminal investigations have been opened. According to the Prosecutor’s office, 180 000 square meters of land have been contaminated before the hydrocarbon reaches the river.
According to Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel, the tank was damaged when the pillars that held it in “for 30” started to sink. This phenomenon could be related to the melting of permafrost caused by climate change.
But an expert from the NGO WWF, Alexey Knijnikov, affirms for his part that the Russian law requires that any tank of its kind to be surrounded by a containment structure, which would have prevented the accident. “A large part of the responsibility of the company “, he added.