Vast Arctic oil spill prompts state of emergency

Image shows a large diesel spill in the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk in RussiaImage copyright

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The leaked diesel oil drifted some 12km (7.5 miles) from the site of the accident

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency after 20,000 tonnes of oil leaked into a river within the Arctic Circle.

The spill happened when a fuel tank at a power plant near the Siberian city of Norilsk collapsed last Friday.

President Putin expressed anger after discovering officials only learnt about the incident two days later.

The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, which is the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer.

And in a televised video conference on Wednesday, Mr Putin lambasted the head of the company over the timeliness of its response.

“Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact?” he asked the subsidiary’s chief, Sergei Lipin. “Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media?”

The region’s governor, Alexander Uss, had earlier told President Putin that he became aware of the oil spill on Sunday after “alarming information appeared in social media”.

Mr Putin has ordered an investigation into the accident and a manager at the power plant has since been detained.

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President Putin expressed shock after hearing officials became aware of the spill days after it happened

In a statement, Norilsk Nickel said the incident had been reported in a “timely and proper” way.

The accident happened when the pillars supporting a fuel tank at a power plant began to sink. The area is built on permafrost which has been melting as the climate warms.

The leaked oil drifted some 12km (7.5 miles) from the accident site, turning long stretches of the Ambarnaya river crimson red.

The state of emergency means extra forces will be sent to the area to assist with the clean-up operation.

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Experts have warned that the clean-up operation will be difficult

The accident is believed to be the second largest in modern Russian history in terms of volume, an expert from the World Wildlife Fund told the AFP news agency.

It has contaminated a 350 sq km (135 sq mile) area, state media report.

The incident has prompted stark warnings from environmental groups, who say the scale of the spill and the geography of the river means it will be difficult to clean-up.

It is not the first time Norilsk Nickel has been involved in oil spillages.

In 2016, it admitted that an accident at one of its plants was responsible for turning a nearby river red.

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