July 3, 2020 / 4:42 PM / a month ago

Russia temporarily halts parts of Nornickel power unit after fuel spill

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s safety watchdog on Friday ordered NTEK, a power unit of mining giant Norilsk Nickel, to suspend operations at six facilities for 90 days for violating safety rules, following a fuel spill in the Arctic.

A fuel tank lost pressure on May 29 and released 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.

Nornickel said the requested changes to improve safety by the Rostekhnadzor watchdog were already in its working plan to prepare for the winter season in the Norilsk region.

The watchdog’s decision will not affect the power supply of the region, it added, meaning production should not be affected.

Rostekhnadzor met with Norilsk Nickel management on Friday to discuss results of an unscheduled audit it had conducted after the fuel spill, the watchdog said in a statement.

At the meeting it warned management of the potential for even worse accidents if comprehensive measures were not taken, and described accident rates at the site as “alarming”, its statement said.

The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers, and President Vladimir Putin has said the scale of the clear-up operation is unprecedented for Russia.

According to Nornickel’s estimate, over 90% of spilt fuel has been collected and removed so far.

It previously said the accident was caused by a thaw in the permafrost weakening the foundations of a storage tank and is now developing a system to monitor the condition of the permafrost.

Reporting by Maria Grabar and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Polina Devitt and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Maria Kiselyova, Mark Potter and David Evans

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