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From household waste to drowned ships: Big cleaning effort in the Arctic

August 14, 2017, 9:29 UTC+3 TASS

The Arctic zone has 102 locations, which require processing of the waste, which had been growing since the development times of the Soviet Union

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© Geological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences press service/TASS

TASS, August 14. Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources has offered a roadmap of a major cleaning in the Arctic, which is planned for 2017-2019. The targets include cleaning of vessel burial along the Kola Bay, the former storages in the Murmansk region and at the Kula gold-extracting factory, the scrap yard in Tiksi (Yakutia), the oil pollution and the waste gained at the Franz-Josef Land in the Arkhangelsk region, as well as the open dump in Naryan-Mar.

TASS writes about who clears what in the Arctic, about problems there and about the local specifics.

By bulldozers or by hand

Cleaning at the Franz-Josef Land began from the Alexandra Land Island, and the cleaning is planned for six islands of the archipelago: the Alexandra Land, Hooker, Rudolf, Heiss, Graham Bell and Hofmann. In some places, the work is almost done, like on the Hooker Island, and in some - like on Rudolf, the northernmost island of the archipelago - the work is only at the stage of planning.

"In 2010, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin made a working trip to Franz Josef Land, after which he ordered organizing a big "cleaning" in the Arctic," Governor of the Arkhangelsk region Igor Orlov said. "This year, the president has inspected how the work continues. The result is impressive: from Franz Josef Land and from Novaya Zemlya more than 40,000 tonnes have been removed, and the technical soil recovery has been made at 270 hectares."

Director of the Russian Arctic national park Alexander Kirilov said the plan is to clear 8,000 tonnes of waste from Franz Josef Land. "Currently, works continue on Alexandra Land, Graham Bell, and we have begun working on the Heiss Island. This year, we shall have a geo-ecology studies to estimate the environmental damage," the director said, adding the unfavorable weather and ice conditions complicate the works. "This summer on the archipelago is late by a month and a half," he explained.

The national park’s first Director Roman Yershov said about the unregulated legal base for cleaning the Arctic. "Take for example ‘the past environmental damage’ - this notion does not exist in the law. This is the problem: what is damage, what is a historical object. Take the Rudolf Island (where the idle Soviet polar station is - TASS) - it is not clear what to calculate there and what not, what may be cleared and what not, what is waste and what is already a historical object," he told TASS.

Every island, he continued, requires special approach, and special ways of cleaning and restoration - depending on the environmental conditions there. "For example, restoration could be done differently: in Tikhaya Bay of the Hooker Island the cleaning was by hand only, and in areas with mass pollution on bald stones a bulldozer may be used," he said.

Oil in water protection area

Another project in the Arkhangelsk region is to clear the oil pollution in the water protection area of the Kuznetsov Creek, which began in the 1980s-1990s when a military unit was there. The regional ministry of natural resources and forestry said the cleaning there is a part of the Clear Country priority project.

"Works there began on July 14 and continue as planned," the ministry said. "We have cut and moved aside the soil, organized the areas; we are extracting soil from the creek and process it."

All the cleaning along the creek is due to be completed by October. The restored area would be 0.4 hectares. By cleaning the creek, the region will prevent oil from getting into the Mezen River, which is a migration and spawning route for Atlantic and While Salmon, and other valuable species.

Dump by capital of Nenets District

Naryan-Mar will clear and restore to 2019 the 10.4-hectare dump near the city. The District’s deputy head of the natural resource department Sergei Chibisov told TASS the dump is 3.5 km south-east of Naryan-Mar, outside the water protection areas of rivers or lakes. The dump is the place for all the city waste - from houses, industries and construction sites.

"This problem is rather not for the people, but for the authorities," he said. "As of now, Naryan-Mar does not have landfills which comply with the sanitary-epidemic requirements. The current dump does not meet the requirements, and we must have a new one. Nor the region observes the aviation requirement of the distance between an airport and a dump of at least 15 kilometers."

In order to solve this problem, the District addressed the federal ministry of natural resources asking for a subsidy. The restoration of the dump’s area is not a part of the Clear Country project’s co-financing for 2018-2019. The total financing will make 71 million rubles ($1.18), where 40.640 million rubles ($679,000) come from the federal budget.

Tonnes of scrap metal in Yakutia

Yakutia’s Arctic zone keeps about five million tonnes of scrap metal, and the necessary investment in cleaning it is estimated at 62 billion rubles ($1.03 billion). Under the Clear Country program, the cleaning will begin in 2019, the republic’s minister of environment Sakhamin Afanasyev told TASS.

"The plans of the federal government for 2019 include cleaning of the Kular gold extraction factory’s tailings storage, where the investment will be more than 250 million rubles ($4.17 million); and another 201 million rubles ($3.35 million) will be allocated for cleaning Tiksi’s Mulun district from scrap metal."

As of now, cleaning of the waste in Yakutia’s Arctic zone features the Defense Ministry - which clears the Kotelny Island from scrap metal, Sakhaenergo will clear barrels and waste, and Alrosa’s branch will also clear the waste at its expense.

Besides, the military are about to finish cleaning of the Novosibirsk Islands as they remove about 4,000 tonnes of scrap metal from there. The Kotelny Island will be cleared this year. Over two years, more than 10,000 tonnes of waste have been cleared from the Novosibirsk Islands’s 160 hectares. During the current year, 600 tonnes of scrap metal from the Kotelny Island will be removed by vessels, which will be bringing the winter cargoes there.

Drowned vessels

The Murmansk region will clear the wrecks in the Kola Bay, which is a place of busy navigation: here go vessels of the military, trade, ice and fishing fleets, the bay hosts the Northern Fleet’s and border guard’s bases, two big ports, and six ship service plants. Six cities and a few settlements are in the bay - every second resident of the Murmansk region lives here.

In the 19980-1990s, along the Kola Bay shores grew a dump of sunken vessels, which spread to the area of about 3,000 hectares. Owners would take off the vessels all valuable parts and forgot or dumped the vessels near the shore.

The federal Ministry of Natural Resources supported including the project to clear the Kola Bay from the unauthorized sunken vessels into the list of priorities. The region received from the federal budget 50 million rubles ($836,168).

In 2016, the region conduced a complex research of the Kola Bay, made a list of drowned and sunken property. The list includes 102 objects, including facilities, scrap metal and waste along the shore (52 objects) and in the Kola Bay’s waters (50 objects). However, it turned out quite problematic to clear the bay. The law regulates any drowned objects should be lifted by owners, and the program could be applied to unowned objects only. The procedure of verifying an owner is time consuming - it may take more than one year, and removing an object may begin only when it is over.

Unattended equipment and buildings on Yamal-Nenets islands

The Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District is not a member of the federal program, though it had filed all required papers. Press service of the District’s governor told TASS this does not mean the region would not clear the Arctic territories. "We have finished cleaning the Bely Island, and this year we organized the first ecology expedition to the Vilkitsky Island in the Kara Sea. The project we have begun will continue and the region will use financing from the local budget and from the fuel-energy companies, which support the cleaning very actively," the press service said.

This year, an expedition to an uninhibited island began on July 13 and lasted for two weeks, where a team of volunteers represented 15 people from Tyumen, Kazan, Vorkuta, Salekhard, Kurgan, Rishon (Israel), Sofia (Bulgaria), as well as representatives of Lukoil and Transneft. The say on the Vilkitsky Island about 1,000 tonnes of scrap metal: equipment, barrels, metal, facilities and buildings unsuitable for living.

In 2016, the region completed cleaning the Bely Island - a most big cleaning project in the District, which lasted from 2012, and in which eleven volunteer expeditions had participated. They cleared more than 52 hectares of land, collected about 1,000 tonnes of scrap metal.

The authorities say, the region’s territory keeps 12,500 tonnes of waste. "Following inspection of 576 wells in Yamal, which were drilled in the 1960s, we have found almost everywhere unattended equipment and waste. The total weight of the waste is about 12,500 tonnes, and the area it takes is about 1,500 hectares," First Deputy Governor Alexei Sitnikov said.

According to him, most waste originates from the first wave of Yamal’s intensive development in the 1960s-1970s. "Back then, during development of hydrocarbon deposits, ecology standards were not that strict, and thus now we have many objects of gained damage," he said.

The District has its own roadmap of fixing the environmental damage, under which it will verify the amount of waste to begin cleaning afterwards. However, due to limited opportunities of the local budget, the works may begin not earlier than in 2020, thus support from the federal center could be very valuable, the deputy governor said. The District’s budget financing has been used since 2013 to clear eight waste objects, and cleaning continues now at nine other locations.

Billions for cleaning the Arctic

In 2017, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources will spend 1.69 billion rubles ($28.3 million) to fix the gain damage in the Arctic zone. The works in 2017 continue under the Clear Country project at the Franz Josef Land archipelago, the water protection area of the Kuznetsov Creek in Arkhangelsk region, in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) (the Kular gold extraction plant), and restoration of the dump in Naryan-Mar (the Nenets Autonomous District).

The Arctic zone has 102 locations, which require processing of the waste, which had been growing since the development times of the Soviet Union. The most suffering region is the Krasnoyarsk territory, which has 52 locations of gained damage. At the same time, the cleanest areas are the Nenets Autonomous District and the republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

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