Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency and assailed a subsidiary of a metals giant over a 20,000-ton diesel spill into a Siberian river in the Arctic Circle, according to reports.
Putin slammed the head of the Norilsk Nickel subsidiary that runs the NTEK power plant, where a fuel reservoir collapsed near the city of Norilsk and leaked into the river on May 29, Agence France-Presse reported.
“Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact? Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Are you quite healthy there?” Putin asked NTEK chief Sergei Lipin.
Norilsk Nickel said in a statement that NTEK had reported what happened in a “timely and proper” manner.
The company said the fuel tank was damaged when supporting pillars that had “held it in place for 30 years without difficulty” began to sink.
Alexander Uss, the Krasnoyarsk regional governor, told Putin he only “learned of the real situation” on Sunday after “alarming information appeared in social media.”
The Russian strongman said a national state of emergency was required to call in more resources for the cleanup effort.
Russia’s Investigative Committee announced that it launched three criminal environmental probes and detained a worker at the power plant, AFP reported.
It also released footage shot on a cell phone that appears to show fuel streaming down from the reservoir and under a fence.
World Wildlife Fund expert Alexei Knizhnikov told AFP the environmental group alerted cleanup experts after confirming the incident through its sources.
“These are huge volumes,” he told the news outlet. “It was difficult for them to cover it up.”
The incident was much larger than a major 2007 spill in the Kerch strait of the Black Sea that involved 5,000 tons of oil, the WWF expert said.
Environment Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said that only the emergencies ministry could handle the cleanup efforts, “maybe with the involvement of the military.”
He said that burning the fuel was too risky.
“It’s a very difficult situation. I can’t imagine burning so much fuel in an Arctic territory… Such a huge bonfire over such an area will be a big problem,” he said.
In 2016, Norilsk Nickel admitted that pollutants from a “filtration dam” at its plant washed into another river. It was fined less than $1,000 for that incident.
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