An industrial facility in Russia long responsible for harmful pollution will shut down on December 23, a move cheered by Bellona, which has long sought to staunch emissions fouling the northern reaches of Norway and endangering health on both sides of the border.
The closures will affect a number of nickel smelting furnaces in the Russian-Norwegian border town of Nikel, an industrial settlement of about 11,000. The smelters are part of the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Company, or KMMC – a subsidiary of the giant Norilsk Nickel – and they have long drawn the ire of Norwegian and Russian environmentalists for their excessive output of toxic sulfur dioxide.
“The closing of the plant is a New Year’s present to nature,” says Simon Kalmykov, an energy advisor with Bellona’s Murmansk offices. “This will stop the emission of sulfur dioxide and heavy metals near the Russian-Norwegian border, and less pressure on nature and people’s health in the area.”
According to statistics from the company, the smelters emit some 70,000 tons of sulfur dioxide in the Pechenga district of the Murmansk region per year. A November 2019 closure of the first furnace in Nikel has reduced emissions of the harmful respiratory irritant.
For more than half a century, pollution from the plant has embittered relations between Russia and its neighbor in Scandinavia, and company representatives have long promised to reduce its sulfur dioxide output, often with mixed results.
In recent years, however, Norilsk Nickel has embarked on a highly vocal multi-billion-dollar effort to rewrite its history as a major Russian polluter, vowing to revamp its production facilities and stem how much sulfur dioxide spills into the atmosphere.
The closure of Nikel’s smelters is part of that process, which has high stakes for the company. Norilsk Nickel produces metals vital to the production of batteries for electric cars, but many carmakers, like Tesla and Volvo, refuse to buy products produced by unrepentant polluters.
But the closures will impact a community that is formed almost entirely around work at the plants. Anna Krygina, who head the human resources department for the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Company, told the company televisions station that some 800 workers have be reassigned to other duties within the company’s sprawling network or encouraged to take early retirement.
Since October 2019, the company has been surveying employees in the smelter workshop to determine their needs and develop support measures to each of them based on their individual situations, Kn51, Norilsk Nickel’s company newspaper, reported.
The company also runs mines, enrichment facilities and briquette production plant in Zapolyarny, as well as a wide range of technological processing facilities in Monchegorsk. The ore concentrate and briquette smelting work performed within Nikel will be transferred to Norilsk, 2,000 kilometers to the east, where the parent company Norilsk Nickel is located.
Bellona fears that moving the smelting work will take emissions out of the public’s eye,” says Kalmykov. “That is why we will continue to observe now Norilsk Nickle implements its environmental strategy.”
“The question of recultivating the land is still up for discussion,” Kalmykov notes. “There is a huge territory that was almost destroyed by toxic fumes. No one is discussing what come next for this land. Will there be a clean up? Especially when KMMC already has experience in recultivating areas around its company towns.