Putin calls fuel spill unprecedented for Russia, Greenpeace sees $1.4B damage

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday the scale of the clear-up operation after a huge fuel spill in the Arctic was unprecedented for Russia, with Greenpeace estimating the environmental damage to waters in the region at $1.4 billion.

A vast fuel tank lost pressure on May 29 and unleashed 21,000 tonnes of diesel into rivers and subsoil near the city of Norilsk, an incident that Greenpeace has compared to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

“Russia has not yet had experience of clearing up such vast pollution from bodies of water as far as I understand,” Putin told officials on state television.

It will take at least 10 years for biodiversity in the waters to fully return where the accident happened, the state fishing agency said at the meeting.

The state environmental watchdog plans to finish its assessment of the damage by July 1, its head told Putin.

Vladimir Chuprov, a Greenpeace activist, said the damage to the water totalled 100 billion roubles ($1.44 billion US), a figure that was higher than it should be because of what he said was the slow official response, the TASS news agency reported.

The city of Norilsk is home to mining giant Norilsk Nickel. The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers into containers.

WATCH | Putin calls state of emergency after massive oil spill in Arctic region river 

Tonnes of fuel products from Norilsk Nickel leaked into the Ambarnaya River after pillars supporting a fuel tank are believed to have sunk in permafrost. 2:19

Nornickel has already spent $5 billion roubles on the clean up, its co-owner Vladimir Potanin said. The mining giant also plans to spend $13.5 billion roubles on safety checks for its remaining fuel storage tanks in 2020-2021.

More than 90 per cent of the fuel from the rivers and about 70 per cent of the contaminated soil have been already collected, Nornickel said earlier this week.

Putin previously ordered officials to check all similar fuel storages in Russia, and they plan to complete this process by July 24, they told him.

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Johny Watshon

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