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Ban for landfill sites in Arctic unable to settle problem of territory pollution — experts

February 03, 2017, 16:59 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Experts say, it would take another 10-15 years to clear the mistakes of the Soviet times, when along the Arctic coast grew stocks of metal barrels, packing materials and other waste

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© Press Service of Geological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences/TASS

MOSCOW, February 2. /TASS/. The bill on banning of landfill sites in the Russian Arctic zone cannot solve the problem of that territory’s pollution, TASS learned from experts and representatives of the Russian Arctic regions.

The bill’s author, the State Duma’s legislator, Vladimir Sysoyev, said parliamentary discussions of the initiative are under way.

Experts say, it would take another 10-15 years to clear the mistakes of the Soviet times, when along the Arctic coast grew stocks of metal barrels, packing materials and other waste.

Work on bill should continue

The bill’s author said only absolute banning of all waste disposal may solve the problem in the Arctic zone. "Now that we have working functions of control, and licenses are issued by only one ministry - the Ministry of Natural Resources, there is a question of a conflict of interests: own ban and own control. Here, we say, we need a healthy ecological situation in the Arctic, and these functions should be separated. Nowadays, the Arctic regions could have an association to settle due problems," he said.

The ministry of nature in the Murmansk region told TASS the existing tariffs and the process of dealing with municipal solid waste (MSW) are clearly insufficient to have a complex of taking waste outside the region. The other problem is that other regions do not have facilities to process the received waste. The ministry’s specialists say the bill does not take into account the current situation in the sphere or plans for its development in the Arctic zones.

"The bill should be amended with provisions regarding special requirements to dealing with solid municipal waste in small and remote settlements of the Arctic zone," the ministry said.

Arkhangelsk region’s governmental envoy on the Arctic development Lev Levit said the approach of banning all and everything, without considering details, will not favor settlement of the task to improve the ecological situation in the Arctic.

"Purpose of the legislative initiative is not clear, the explanatory note contains a mixture of many aspects, it has many rough ideas, and the wording is very vague: on one hand, the author says "the Arctic region faces a tense ecological situation" - so, are we facing it now, or is it the heritage of the 60s-70s, but at the same time the main focus is made on the Soviet period of the North’s industrial development, on the vital importance to clear and restore the soil, to process the abandoned equipment and wells. But this work already continues successfully: the Arkhangelsk region is a leader in Russia in cleaning the Arctic territories, where the Russian Arctic national park already had three successful seasons of ecology cleaning and is getting prepared for the coming seasons, besides, a lot has been done also on Yamal, and in other neighboring Arctic regions," he said.

This problem requires complex approaches, the official said, and they should be based on thorough studies of the gained damage. "The damage must be analyzed, all sources of pollution should be studied, and we then would need a plan for cleaning," he said. "This is the work to be done by core ministries and authorized organizations."

Colossal costs

Director of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Applied Ecology of the North Grigory Savvinov told TASS it is complicated to estimate the amount of waste stuck in the Arctic. "At least we are unaware of statistics of the kind, and thus it is impossible to say how much it may cost to take the waste out of there," he said. "But in any case the amounts are big, and the costs would be huge, like the efforts required." Any waste from the Arctic should be taken only by sea, and this is also very complicated in terms of doing regularly.

Yakutia’s officials say transportation of waste from the republic is not reasonable. "Taking into account Yakutia’s territorial peculiarities, landfill sites should be left as burials, as it is not reasonable and economically unprofitable to organize taking waste from inaccessible and remote areas, and thus many regions including Yakutia have filed their suggestions to the Ministry of Construction to allow leaving the burials," the republic’s minister Gavril Levin told TASS.

"Waste disposal issues should be considered depending on regions," Yakutia’s official Vera Stepanova said. "Taking waste from Arctic dumps regions is very expensive, thus we are working on alternative disposal methods."

Chukotka, in its turn, plans spending 4.8 billion rubles ($80,7 million) for burial dumps and further disposal of waste under the regional program for 2016-2010. The region’s Governor Roman Kopin said landfill sites will appear in all districts.

15 years to clear Arctic

Experts say it will take another 10-15 years to clear the Arctic, as for the decades, during shipment of necessary cargo for winter periods, enormous stock of barrels, package materials and other waste remained at coastal areas of the Arctic islands.

For Yamal, one of the main problems today is abandoned research wells that were drilled back in the Soviet time during oil and gas exploration. The Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District’s head of the department for natural resources, forestry and oil and gas complex, Alexander Gavrilyuk, told TASS the situation cannot be settled without involvement of the federal authorities.

"There are more than 100 locations of the kind in the district - some of them were drilled in the USSR times, some in the period of the Russian Federation, and some were financed from the district’s budget," the official said. "The latter are our assets, and we allocate money to serve them - but they are only a few among them."

"As for the other, here is a legal collision, as in fact they are not unattended," he added.

Another aspect of the discussion is whether they should be considered as additional objects of the gained damage.

"On one hand, those were geological studies, and the objects appeared not yesterday, and requirements regarding their maintenance and closing should be observed," he said. "We believe it necessary to consolidate all involved federal authorities - Rosimushchestvo, Rostechnadzor, Rosnedra, and the Ministry of Natural Resources - to offer a detailed program, at least to analyze conditions of those wells."

Modern waste disposal technologies

The Kranoyarsk territory’s legislator Lyudmila Magomedova says waste in the Arctic should be cleared, but the approach should be complex - to study modern technologies and to make necessary calculations.

Besides, the local government told TASS they consider different variants of processing waste in the Arctic, including the waste of past decades, but everything eventually comes to financing. The problem of waste dealing in the northern regions is vital, the settlements are remote, and there are obvious problems with transport infrastructures.

"Thus, we see illegal waste pits, which threaten polluting rivers and lakes during spring floods," the government said. "Last year, the local budget allocated 15 million rubles ($252.5 thousand) to buy special equipment to process waste in the Taimyr and Turukhan Arctic districts."

Those are complexes, where at the temperature of 1200 degrees the waste turns into ash, and the share of remaining volume is 5% of the uploaded waste. Further on, the ash may be used for roadsides, and the heat produced during combustion may be used for heating of houses.

Authorities of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District told TASS it is not realistic to organize waste evacuation from the Arctic regions while the current tariffs remain.

"We consider as negative the idea of banning, as it would require colossal costs - sunk costs," the officials said. "The problem is of the complex character, and banning is a half-measure, which only allows municipal authorities act beyond the legal field.".

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