Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No trees at Norilsk

Norilsk has a population of 200,000. no trees grow there. In 1930, there was nothing there, except a few reindeers and reindeer-hunters, but shortly after, nickel and other metal deposits were discovered. In 1935, construction of what was to be the city of Norilsk and the Metallurgical Combine began. Hundreds of thousands of kulak farmers and peasants were rounded up and sent there to toil and, in many cases, die in what was called the Frozen Hell. Just how many was not known. In 1953, following the death of Stalin, as elsewhere in many Siberian labour camps, the slaves of Norilsk rebelled and went on a two-month strike. By 1956, the rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union, and the need for a more sophisticated workforce of 'free' wage-slaves, necessitated the beginning of the end of the Gulag system.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Norilsk Metallurgical Combine, like many other former Soviet combines and trusts, was privatised, having been purchased 'for a song' by Vladimir Fotanin and his business partner, George Soros.

The Metallurgical Combine became a mining company, MMC Norilsk Nickel, and the principle employer in the area. In 2004 it was reported that every day soot from the company not only turned the snow black, but also sends 5,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, making the air taste sour. The mining company produced one seventh of all Russian factory pollution; it churned out two million tonnes of waste gas, and 85 million cubic metres of dirty water a year, destroying forests for hundreds of miles and even affecting Canada and Norway. At the time, a spokeswoman for the company admitted that only four percent of the population of Norilsk were healthy.

And what of today, in 2008? A recent entry in Wikipedia, updates information on Norilsk and conditions in the area, and from the company.

According to the Russian State Statistics Service, the estimated population of Norilsk in 2007 was 230,000, Norilsk is the centre of a region where nickel (one of the largest deposits on our planet.), copper, cobalt, platinum and coal are mined. Wikipedia reports that the Norilsk area is largely closed to foreigners, with travel permits also required for Russian citizens, ostensibly because of the sensitive nature of the mining, but also because of the ICBM missile silos located in the nearby Putoran Mountains. The nickel ore is smelted on site at Norilsk. And, continues the Wikipedia report:

"The smelting is directly responsible for severe pollution, generally acid rain and smog. By some estimates, one percent of the entire global emissions of sulphur dioxide comes from this one city. Heavy metal pollution near Norilsk is so severe that it is now economically feasible to mine the soil, which has been polluted so severely that it has economic grades of platinum and palladium".
The Wikipedia entry confirms that not a single living tree grows within 48 km of the Norilsk nickel smelter, and that the city was listed in 2007 as one of the ten most polluted places in the world. It is now estimated that four million tonnes of cadmium, copper, lead, arsenic, selenium, zinc and nickel are released into the air every year.'

Last year, BBC TV news reported ('Toxic truth of secretive Siberian city') that the mining company accepted responsibly for what it had done to the forests, but insisted they were taking action to cut pollution. Between 2015 and 2020, it expects - hopes? — to reduce sulphur emissions by approximately two-thirds, but "admits it is hard to guarantee because they are still developing the technology". Moreover, the company like all capitalist enterprises, is not likely to try particularly hard to tackle the problem if it would curtail its vast profits. Profits before people — and the planet!


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