Russian oversight agency refuses emissions license to big Northwest polluter

The industrial city of Nikel. (Photo: Anna Kireeva)

Publish date: May 3, 2016

MURMANSK–Russia’s environmental oversight agency, Rosprirodnadzor, has said it will not renew an emissions license for the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Combine’s smelting facility in the town of Nikel near Murmansk for the time being.

MURMANSK–Russia’s environmental oversight agency, Rosprirodnadzor, has said it will not renew an emissions license for the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Combine’s smelting facility in the town of Nikel near Murmansk for the time being.

Nikel and the KMMC’s associated industrial towns in Russia’s Far Northwest along the Norwegian border have long been a source of tension for their emissions of sulfur dioxide, and a major flashpoint in squabbles over cross border pollution among Russia, Finland and Norway. KMMC is a daughter corporation of Russia’s enormous Norilsk Nickel enterprise in northern Siberia.

The KMMC occupies three towns on the Kola Peninsula: Zapolayarny, where the KMMC mines its nickel ore, Nikel where it is smelted, and Monchegorsk, where the nickel is refined.

On one hand, the denial of the emissions license is one of the first acknowledgements by Russian officialdom that the Nikel smelting plant does indeed pose an environmental risk – all the more so as Rosprirodnadzor habitually sides with the plant in international disputes regarding its emissions.

On the other, the denial is not expected to stand for long, as sources say the decision will soon be reviewed.

According to an April letter from Rosprirodnadzor to the KMMC, which was obtained by the Independent Barents Observer and shown to Bellona, the environmental oversight agency has refused to renew the emissions license of the nickel smelting plant in the industrial town of Nikel over a host of environmental and reporting infringements.

These include the company’s inaccurate, contradictory and fudged figures on its emissions in repoerts it routinely submits to Rosprirodnadzor.

These faulty reporting procedures concealed that the plant has failed to meet its emission targets at several stages of its industrial activities.

Previously approved company plans included the closure of a number of emission sources at the plant. But this hasn’t happened, the letter from the Rosprirodnadzor reads.

The emissions reduction plan, which the plant tasked itself with implementing, envisioned closing several dozen small emissions sources by October 2015.

But “the report has no information about achieving zero emissions, [or] the closure or liquidation of [emissions] sources,” reads the Rosprirodnadzor letter, as shown to Bellona.

One of the efforts toward reducing pollution includes the use of special briquettes, or pellets, which absorb sulfur dioxide, a process that’s been ongoing since 2010.

But the Rosprirodnadzor letter noted issues were arising in briquette production.

“Information in the report about completed work contain only information about problems arising while smelting briquettes, as well as the construction of a new oven with a gas tight dome, which allows for the reduction of gas escaping into the atmosphere of the workshop by 40 percent.”

The report also singled out contradictory information on the environmental effects of the plant’s emissions. One graph, entitled “Lowering Emissions” listed a figure of 596,065 tons – but a corrective notation below the table listed an emissions reduction of 343,550 tons.

The company likewise presented no information on developing a project to raise the height of the plant’s smokestacks, which was to be completed during 2015 and 2016. But the KMMC considered this project to no longer be apart of its upgrades, as it’s not required by federal legislation.

But what could have been revolutionary steps to abate a serious pollution issue already seems to be losing steam in the corridors of the Murmansk branch of Rosprirodnadzor, where sourced told Bellona that the permit would be reviewed within a week.

“We issued a permit for [the KMMC’s] Zapolyary [facility] and refused one for Nikel,” one source at Rosprirodnadzor told Bellona. “Our representatives were recently on an inspection of the Nikel facility and they saw that the [company’s] specified measures had been undertaken, and the low emissions sources have been closed, as was previously announced by the company.”

The source continued to say that, “the KMMC will correct its report and in the coming week we will hold a special meeting – I think the permission for Nikel will be reviewed.”

Bellona will continue to follow developments.

Meanwhile, data from the Murmansk Hydrometeorological Monitoring Authority – which routinely contradicts reports fro Rosprirodnadzor – indicate the nickel smelting operations in Nikel and Zapolyarny regularly emit well over allowable limits, reported the Independent Barents Observer. Annual sulfur dioxide emissions from the plants exceed 100,000 tons, the portal said.

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