Russian Mining Giant Handed $2B Fine Over Fuel Spill

This handout photo provided by Vasiliy Ryabinin shows oil spill outside Norilsk, 1,800 miles northeast of Moscow, Russia, on May 29, 2020. (Vasiliy Ryabinin via AP)

 MOSCOW (AFP) — Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel on Friday was fined nearly $2 billion after one of its subsidiaries became the source of a giant fuel spill in Russia’s Arctic last year.

Russia frequently experiences environmental disasters that are often caused by aging infrastructure but the oil spill near the city of Norilsk in May last year was one of the worst in recent history.

A court in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk ordered the company — one of the world’s largest producers of palladium and nickel — to pay a fine of 146.2 billion rubles ($1.9 billion), Norilsk Nickel said in a statement.

Greenpeace said the fine was “the largest compensation for environmental damage” in Russia’s history. 

More than 20,000 tons of diesel leaked into lakes and rivers in the Russian Arctic in May last year when a fuel reservoir collapsed at a power plant owned by Norilsk Nickel.

Russia’s environment watchdog Rosprirodnadzor estimated the damage at close to nearly $2 billion. 

Nornickel said it would cover the cleanup costs but contested the sum of the fine.

Rosprirodnadzor head Svetlana Rodionova on Friday welcomed the court’s decision.

“We won! … Thank you to everyone who cares about the environment,” she wrote on Instagram. 

She had earlier written that “for the first time in Russia’s history we declared loud and clear: ecology is everyone’s business! And the polluter will pay!”

President Vladimir Putin in June announced a state of emergency over the disaster and lambasted the head of the Norilsk Nickel subsidiary after officials said the company failed to report the incident.

Following Friday’s verdict, Norilsk Nickel shares were down more than 3% on the Moscow Stock Exchange.

The company, owned by Russia’s richest man Vladimir Potanin, said it “will carefully evaluate” the court’s decision but did not indicate whether it plans to appeal.

© Agence France-Presse

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