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Mines, settlements, airports: How to clean the Arctic from neglected facilities

November 22, 2017, 8:26 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Greenpeace’s map has about 400 objects - those are abandoned mines, military bases, polar stations, geologists’ settlements and simply scrap metal sites

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© Lev Fedoseev/TASS

MOSCOW, November 22. /TASS/. The Greenpeace Russia ecology organization, which has made a map of almost 400 facilities, abandoned after development of the Arctic regions, says the cleaning would cost hundreds billions of rubles. Authorities of the Arctic regions and ecology experts told TASS what those wastes are like and how to clear the Russian North, who should finance the work.

Map of abandoned waste

Greenpeace’s map has about 400 objects - those are abandoned mines, military bases, polar stations, geologists’ settlements and simply scrap metal sites. The organization’s activists visited the Arctic regions, collected the open data and asked local ecologists to help them in assembling the information for the map.

Head of the organization’s energy program Vladimir Chuprov says about colossal costs of removing the polluting objects in the Arctic.

"The federal budget allocates for settlement of this problem about two billion rubles ($34 million), while the price tag is in fact dozens and hundreds of billion rubles," he said.

Greenpeace say they did not manage to put all objects on the map - in reality, the number of abandoned villages, port facilities or lighthouses is much bigger. The available data mean that the red spots on the map are not only in the Russian North’s mainland, but also on the archipelagos, which were developed less actively - Novaya Zemlya, Franz-Josef Land, Novosibirsk Islands. For example, on Severnaya Zemlya the ecologists have registered abandoned polar stations and an airport. Thus, the cleaning expenses can be estimated only approximately.

Heritage from the Soviet times

Result of the decades-long industrial development and military activities in Yakutia’s northern regions not only improved Russia’s positions in the Arctic, but also added ecology problems, the republic’s environment ministry told TASS. In Yakutia, experts have drawn 437 points of metal and non-ferrous scrap, where more than 80% are in the region’s Arctic area.

"After the perestroika, abandoned became villages and settlements, tailing storages of mining and gold-producing plants," the ministry said. "Yakutia’s Arctic zone, has, first of all, great amounts of abandoned metal."

A similar problem is in the Krasnoyarsk territory. According to representative of the region’s ecology ministry Yulia Gumenyuk, the territory’s northern area has 54 objects, which are sources of environmental damage. Those objects are mostly in Khatanga, Dudinka and Dikson.

"Those are former military bases or facilities related to geology exploration," she added.

Owners are impossible to find

Press service of the Murmansk region’s government says cleaning of the Arctic should be responsibility of the waste’s owners, though usually it is not easy to establish the owners of ruined buildings or of scrap metal.

"We have the experience of identifying the owners, and this experience is negative. Most enterprises, which facilities are abandoned now, do not exist any longer - they were either closed in the 1990s or went bankrupt. Usually, they do not have successors who could be ready to undertake obligations to remove the facilities," press service of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District’s governor said.

The Murmansk region explains - if the facilities’ owner is not identified, then the land owner should clean the area. The regional authorities point to the experience with military bases - the law reads the waste should be cleaned by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Cleaning is impossible without federal financing

The Krasnoyarsk territory says about necessary 1.415 billion rubles ($24 million) to eliminate 54 objects of the ecology damage. The region hopes for financing from the federal budget, but a necessary decision is not in place, and the federal authorities still do not have a registrar of the gained ecology damage, the regional ecology ministry said.

"We could have organized a special site to burn this waste or to cut and press metal barrels," Yuria Gumenyuk said.

According to Taimyr’s acting head Galing Gavrilova, in Dudinka, Dikson and Khatanga the local authorities plan constructing special facilities to process thermally the waste. In other areas, local authorities will organize similar facilities, too.

It is impossible to organize big facilities with processing equipment due to the complicated climate conditions, big distances and a lack of roads in the tundra. The lack of population makes utilization economically unreasonable for private investors.

Attracting oil and gas sector

According to Vladimir Chuprov, even the state financing is not a solution for removing the waste from the Russian Arctic zone - the issue cannot be solved without attracting major corporations, which are working in the Arctic.

"As for me, I cannot see this problem may be solved at expense of taxpayers, that is of the budgets. The Arctic’s active industrial development continues, but private companies are not investing in the cleaning, and the law does not make them do so. Now, they are getting revenues by using results from that geology exploration and from the earlier made infrastructures," he said.

However, some regions have experience in cooperation with the mining and private companies. In the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, Gazprom has eliminated the gained geology damage at the Yamburg and Urengoi fields, cleaned the Ob Bay area, Gazprom Production Yamburg removed metal and construction waste from the abandoned geologists’ settlement. The Arctic LNG 2 Company removed scrap metal from old wells’ areas in the Salmanovsky field.

The regional budget’s assets are used mostly to solve the problem of dumps of household garbage. The Murmansk region subsidizes municipal authorities. Over recent three years, the region has allocated more than 10 million rubles ($169 thousand). The money was used also to close down unauthorized waste dumps there.

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