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Ambitious project to revamp closed paper plant put on hold

By Olga Gertcyk
25 March 2015

Economic crisis to blame for delay in plan to breathe new environmentally-friendly life into former Lake Baikal polluter.

It was hoped new life could be breathed into the facility, which was a major polluter and was closed down in 2013. Picture: Sergey Saursky

Plans to turn a notorious pulp and paper plant on the edge of Lake Baikal into a huge natural park have been put on hold amid the continuing economic crisis.

It was hoped new life could be breathed into the facility, which was a major polluter and was closed down in 2013, by transforming it into a tourist attraction called Zapovednaya Rossiya (Precious Russia).

A clean-up operation was due to start in May, with estimates it would take six years to get rid of the six million tonnes of waste, sludge and slurry housed at the site.

But Vnesheconombank (VEB) has temporarily halted the ambitious cultivation and development project due to funding issues and a lack of investors. It has been greeted with disappointment in Baikal, and also sparked concern that the waste accumulated over the decades could leak into the lake.

Explaining the decision, Ekaterina Grishkovetc, an official representative at VEB, said: 'The 'Precious Russia' project, as well as all the other investment projects at the territory of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant are postponed for now. We hope it will come up in the near future.'

The VEB press office added that the investment project was on hold because of issues with cleaning up the territory.

Built in the early 1960s the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant helped make pulp for the inside of Soviet jet tyres at the peak of its production.

By the early 2000s environmental agencies were made aware of pollution problems at the site, with up to 48 million tonnes of used water and waste being dumped in Baikal.

It was closed in 2008, with 2,000 of the city of Baikalsk’s 4,000 residents left without work. Production was restarted two years later under then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Baikalsk


Baikalsk


Baikalsk

The 6.2million tonnes of waste, including lignin cuttings, is stored within the plant but in areas that could be affected by landslides or mudflows. Pictures: Design Bureau 'Strelka', Greenpeace, RDM

However it was shut down once more in 2013, prompting Vladimir Mirkulik, co-owner of the design centre Artplay, to come up with an idea to develop a new ecological centre instead.

The Ministry of the Natural Resources supported the idea, which would see the old buildings revamped and turned into a tourist attraction as a cheaper and more environmentally-friendly option than knocking them down.

It was in November last year that Rosprirodnadzor, the government’s environmental regulator, signed the deal to recycle the plant’s waste. They are now waiting for the Ministry of Natural Resources to choose a contractor for the work.

However, the efforts to then transform the complex are facing delays because it is difficult to find investors before the clean-up itself is sorted out.

The 6.2million tonnes of waste, including lignin cuttings, is stored within the plant but in areas that could be affected by landslides or mudflows. Any leakage into the lake would be potentially catastrophic for the environment.

Lake Baikal is said to be home to 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It even has its own species of seal – the Baikal Seal – with no-one sure how they came to be in the stretch of water, far from any sea or ocean.

Thought to be 25 million years old, Baikal stretches for 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. It contains 20 per cent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater reserves and in places is said to be about 5,387ft deep.

The clean-up was scheduled to start in May and 740 of the plant’s employees were to join the efforts before then assisting with the development of the Precious Russia park.

However, there is already a 2.8billion rouble ($4.6million) shortfall, meaning there is not enough to neutralise the lignin fields.

Project


Project


Project

'The project prepared by VEB Engineering experts is a large-scale one and requires significant investment.' Pictures: Design Bureau 'Strelka

Last year Dmitry Sheybe, VEB Engineering director general, estimated it would take up to 8.2 billion roubles ($136million) to close the plant and cultivate the area.

Nikolay Gudkov, head of the Ministry of Natural Resources press office, said: 'The project prepared by VEB Engineering experts is a large-scale one and requires significant investment.

'The tender for the clean-up and cultivation project contractor will be arranged after the analysis of the VEB Engineering papers is over. We're expecting it to happen in the first half of 2015.'

Alexandr Grek, chief editor of the National Geographic Russia magazine, said that the business plan for developing the plant is an extremely hard task. He said: 'Baikal is famous for its views and its shores is a photographer's Mecca.

'It's not a very attractive place for mass tourism: the water in the lake is cold all year long, there are a lot of flies, and there is nothing else apart from nature. Those who are interested in Baikal can find a way to satisfy their interest with the existing infrastructure. It wouldn't necessarily boost tourist flows. 

'Baikal is a particular place and interesting to not too many people.'

Comments (1)

Anyway, rhe Far East needs a Paper and Pulp Mill, and rhe best place can be in Primorsky Krai nwxt to the Atlantic and replacing chlorine by oxygen for tratment. In fact, rhere is spacw for more than one Paper Mill. Those who lost their jobs in Baikal should be given preference in a new factory.
Enrique, Spaun
29/03/2015 05:11
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0
1

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