Russian scientists plan major Arctic expedition after fuel spill

Russian scientists are organising their first major expedition to the Arctic in decades to study climate change, mining company Norilsk Nickel said on Thursday, weeks after a giant fuel leak at one of its power plants in Siberia.

Arctic environment security has been in the spotlight since 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked from a tank at the power plant near the city of Norilsk on May 29.

“Such expeditions and in-depth studies beyond the Arctic Circle have not been carried out in several decades,” Valentin Parmon, the expedition’s scientific director, said in a statement.

The statement did not mention the spill or the source of the funding.

Scientists from 14 institutions will spend July-November in the Taymyr Peninsula, where the city of Norilsk is located, to study water, soil, biodiversity and permafrost.

An official investigation into the spill continues, but Nornickel initially blamed melting permafrost driven by climate change for eroding the fuel tank’s foundations. Federal investigators have blamed the poor state of the fuel tank.

Russia’s environmental watchdog demanded Nornickel pay damages of $2 billion, while a series of smaller incidents at Nornickel prompted Rusal, one of its major shareholders, to demand an overhaul of its environmental policies.

“For the implementation of large-scale plans for the Arctic’s development, it is important to know what geological and biochemical processes were the result of both natural and anthropogenic changes,” Vladimir Potanin, Nornickel chief executive and the largest shareholder, said in the statement.

“Nornickel, as the region’s leading industrial developer, is aware of its responsibilities and intends to revise its approach to industrial ecology based on the results of the … expedition.”

Nornickel had collected 90% of the spilled diesel and was improving environmental policies of its corporate culture, Gareth Penny, its board chairman, said earlier.