On June 10th, Russia arrested three power plant employees after more than 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into the soil and waterways in Siberia.
These arrests came nearly two weeks after the spill, which happened on May 29th. It was a result of a fuel reservoir collapse at a power plant operated by a subsidiary of metals giant Norilsk Nickel in the city of Norilsk beyond the Arctic Circle.
The Investigative Committee, which is probing the accident, said it had arrested the director of the power station, Pavel Smirnov, along with the chief engineer of the power plant Alexei Stepanov and his deputy Yuri Kuznetsov.
If charged, they would risk up to five years in prison.
The Committee said the fuel tank had required major repairs from 2018, but the suspects “continued to use it in breach of safety rules”.
“As a result the accident occurred,” the investigators’ statement said.
“On June 10th, it became known that three employees of TPP-3 were detained in the case of an oil spill. They are planning to indict them in the near future. Nikolay Utkin, vice president of the Norilsk Nickel, director of the Polar Division, said that the company considers this measure unreasonably harsh,” a statement from Norilsk Nickel said.
“There is no reason to believe that our colleagues can interfere with the investigation. The leaders of the combined heat and power plants cooperate with law enforcement agencies and now they would be much more useful at the scene of the liquidation of the consequences of the accident,” Utkin said in a statement.
Documentation was released on June 9th showing information about the reservoir. It was built in 1985 and underwent repairs in 2017 and 2018 after which it went through a safety audit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency situation and Norilsk Nickel head Vladimir Potanin told the president the company would pay for clean-up efforts estimated at $146m.
Regional officials have said despite efforts to contain the fuel leak using booms on the surface of a river, it has now reached a freshwater lake that is a important source of water for the region.
The pollution could now flow into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia, which Greenpeace Russia expert Vladimir Chuprov said would be a “disaster”.
The metals giant has said the accident could have been caused by global warming thawing the permafrost under the fuel reservoir.
The company has acknowledged it did not specifically monitor the condition of permafrost at its sites.
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