Russian oligarch promises emissions clean-up

The port of Dudinka is owned by Norilsk Nickel. 4.5 million tons of goods are transported through this port anually, most if it from the Norilsk mining industry. (Foto: Dr. Antonia Tsvetkova)
The Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin promises to clean up the Norilsk Nickel corporation's environmental act.

The Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, who owns the Norilsk Nickel corporation, promises to clean up the company’s environmental act. If he delivers, it will equal reducing Sulphur dioxide emissions by 900,000 metric tons annually.


Well-known polluter

The world remembers the Instagram image of a gloomy red river in Siberia going viral earlier this fall.

Norwegians in Pasvik, near the Russian border, also remember that day back in 2014 when a grey fog covered the area like a blanket. A record high level of Sulphur dioxide was measured, six times the recommended limit.

The guilty party in both cases proved to be Nornickel, as the company is known, and its factories in Norilsk and Nickel respectively. Now its owner, oligarch Vladimir Potanin, promises to clean up.


- Unpleasant attention

- When all are pointing fingers at you for doing something wrong, it’s unpleasant, the billionaire said to Bloomberg in a recent interview

After taking over as CEO of Norilsk, which has facilities both in Siberia and on the Kola Peninsula, in 2012, Potanin in 2013 introduced a modernization program that aims at reducing both costs and emissions. At the time, the smelting of nickel and other metals from Norilsk mines pumped about 2 million metric tons of waste into Norilsk’s air.

- The results of our work will be visible only after five to seven years. But it’s important for me for this work to be finished, Potanin says to Bloomberg.


Clean-up furthers profit

The company has already reduced its unit cost for producing nickel by 39% while at the same time it has more than doubled its share price on the Moscow Stock Exchange.

The next step in the process is a project will cost about 1.7 billion USD and could, according to Green Patrol, an environmental monitoring group, reduce emissions with as much as 900,000 tons. That is an amount equal to that of the five largest countries in Europe.

The goal, of course, is not strictly environmental. The initiatives will make the production plants more efficient, profitable and interesting for foreign investors.

The Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, the world’s largest, was denied investing in the company in 2009.


Cautious optimism

Norwegian environmental NGO Bellona is cautiously optimistic, according to Aftenposten

Bellona advisor Oskar Njaa argues that Norilsk Nickel have made promises earlier about environmental investments, however, without anything happening on the ground. This time, he says to Aftenposten, it might be different:

- This time the initiative comes from the company itself, and that indicates that something might actually happen.