A huge oil spill from a power plant in the Arctic region of Russia has led to President Vladimir Putin declaring a state of emergency in the city of Norilsk.

An estimated 20,000 tons of fuel from a Norilsk Nickel operated power plant was spilled onto a road before ending up in the nearby Ambarnaya River, turning stretches of the river a striking red color.

Situated in the Arctic Circle, Norilsk is nearly 3000km north east of Moscow. An industrial city of around 200,000 people, it’s located between the Yenisei River and the western Taymyr Peninsula.

How did the oil spill happen?

“Accidental damage to a diesel fuel storage tank,” was given as the reason for the leak. It’s thought this could be a result of frozen earth thawing out. According to the company, the fuel tank is checked for wear and tear every second year.

Norilsk Nickel CEO Vladimir Potanin said in a televised call with Putin that his company is taking full responsibility for the disaster.

“I think decontamination will cost Nornickel billions of roubles, but I’m speaking not as a businessman, but as a human being concerned about the situation: whatever the cost, we will pay it,” Potanin stated.

The fuel was being stored as a reserve backup for the main supply to a power plant.

Norilsk Nickel claim they are ‘the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium’ and that they are ‘also amongst the leading producers of copper and platinum’.

Despite the company’s apparent willingness to try and clean up the mess they have created, Putin was displeased about the slow reaction to the crisis.

This was after he had discovered that it had taken a few days before local authorities properly reacted to the spill. And that was supposedly only after they had seen a report of the oil spill on social media.

“What — are we to learn about emergency situations from social networks? Are you alright healthwise over there?” Putin said.

The damage could be on a massive scale. Oleg Mitvol, former deputy head of Russia’s environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, estimated that it may take between five and 10 years and cost as much as $1.5 billion to clean up all the damage.

Image credit: The Siberian Times

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