Russian Arctic Rivers Run Red, Causing a State of Emergency

The Siberian city of Norilsk, in Russia, and its surrounding area, encountered a surprising phenomenon this week after a fuel tank at a power plant leaked 20,000 tons of oil into rivers, turning it bright red.

The Arctic Circle region has now been declared in a state of emergency by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

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

Slow response time

Striking images of two rivers, the Ambarnaya and Daldykan, taken from above look like they belong in a murder mystery movie. Instead of clear water running between their banks, you see blood red veins of water swooshing through.

The visions of these rivers are so bright that they’re visible from satellite images taken by Russia’s version of Google Maps, Yandex Maps.

The main issue is potential environmental longterm harm to the area.

President Putin criticized regional authorities for not acting sooner, as the state of emergency was only declared two days after the incident. “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?

Alexander Uss, governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, a huge Siberian territory in which Norilsk lies, had just told Putin he had only found out about the leak via social media two days after the event occurred.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has been helping on the matter, said that on Wednesday that workers had now managed to stop any more oil from leaking into the rivers using barriers. However, as Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia‘s director for environmentally responsible business, explained in a post that the most toxic components of diesel fuel dissolve easily in water, so barriers wouldn’t be enough to stop the huge environmental impact this spill will have.

“The consequences of such accidents, especially in the north, reverberate for a long time. It means the death of fish, the contamination of birds’ feathers, and the poisoning of animals,” Sergey Verkhovets, WWF Russia’s coordinator for arctic projects, said in a separate statement.

A hundred tons of fuel have already been removed from the area, and 100 extra emergency workers will be arriving in the region on Thursday to further assist the clean up operations.

The reason for the fuel tank leak is still being assessed, but Norilsk Nickel has suggested that the tank might have collapsed because of permafrost melting beneath it following an unnaturally warm winter in the region.

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