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A.J.Haywood

As Putin and Medvedev visit the Arctic, shocking images show polar pollution blight

By The Siberian Times reporter
29 March 2017

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment.

More than 100 sites polluted are highlighted on the list, but Greenpeace say even this is not exhaustive. Picture: Greenpeace Russia

These troubling pictures show how rotting junk - some toxic, and much of it from the Soviet era - blights the vast Arctic terrain in northern Russia. 

They are highlighted as President Vladimir Putin and Premier Dmitry Medvedev are today due to make a joint visit to Alexandra Land in the Franz Josef Land archipelago - site of a key military base -  to inspect clean-up operations.

Yet as the pictures show, there is far more work to do across nine time zones in the Russian Arctic. 

Rusting metal barrels containing oil or chemicals stain the landscapes. There are mountains of disused tractors, excavators, fire engines, military vehicles, cranes, boats, and ships. 

Dilapidated, abandoned buildings have been left to decay: once they were schools, or airports, or apartment blocks, but they were left to crumble and decompose.

Household waste is there too: old fridges, cookers, and broken furniture.

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment
As the pictures show, there is far more work to do across nine time zones in the Russian Arctic. Pictures: Greenpeace Russia


Among the locations highlighted on the map are Franz Josef Land, Northern Land, Novosibirskiye Island, Taimyr peninsula, Yamal peninsula, the  estuary of the Lena River, Wrangel Island, Gydan peninsula, Kola peninsula, Yamal Peninsula, and Novaya Zemlya. 

Greenpeace Russia sent a list of polluted areas to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, plus the governors of the country's seven Arctic region. 

The aim is to help them take measures to assess the damage and clean the pollution.

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment
Rotting junk - some toxic, and much of it from the Soviet era - blights the vast Arctic terrain in northern Russia. Pictures: Greenpeace Russia


A meeting between ecology and environmental experts on 20 March 2017 at the State Duma - lower house of parliament - heard that the problem of getting rid of the Arctic waste is hard to solve because of a lack of information about polluted areas. 

In response, GreenPeace sought to gather as much information as possible by sending volunteers to polluted areas, talking to regional representatives and digging open data. 

The map has been sent to the authorities in Moscow and the governors of Murmansk and Archangelsk regions; Nenets, Yamalo-Nenets and Chukotka autonomous regions, Krasnoyarsk region  and the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). 

Greenpeace Russia asked the authorities to evaluate the data, and 'liquidate the damage'. 

More than 100 sites polluted are highlighted on the list, but Greenpeace say even this is not exhaustive. 

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment
'The Arctic might not survive the second wave of industrialization.' Pictures: Greenpeace Russia


The head of Greenpeace Energy Department, Vladimir Chuprov, said: 'This is the price of industrial development of the Arctic, and it should be paid not by Russian taxpayers but by oil and other companies that receive astonishing profits from exploiting the area. 

'We call to federal and regional authorities so that they show willpower and force them to pay.'

He warned: 'The Arctic might not survive the second wave of industrialization.' 

One area where there has been success is in clean-ups staged by Russian military forces on President Putin's orders.

The Russian Ministry of Defence each summer stages major campaigns to remove harmful waste - this year getting rid of 6,540 tons, well above the target that had been set. 

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment
'The [clean-up] process has been going for 5 years and will continue for another 10 to 15 years. Pictures: Greenpeace Russia


One recent estimate is that it will take 15 years to correct the mistakes of the Soviet times when empty metal barrels and other rubbish was left on the Arctic shore. 

Kirill Chistyakov, vice president of Russian Geographic Society and director of the Institute of Earth Studies at St Petersburg State University, said: 'A lot of things in the Arctic have been done in the wrong way. Huge deposits of barrels and other contaminants built up during dozens of years in Soviet times. All of it should be collected. 

'In my estimate, there is enough work here for dozens of years. The [clean-up] process has been going for 5 years and will continue for another 10 to 15 years.' 

He urged: 'The cleaning of the Arctic shouldn't be limited only to specially protected territories. The Arctic still remains an extreme place that requires elaborate planning of all sides of research and commercial projects. 

'Any negligence will be paid later with blood and, perhaps, human lives. 

'Nature is a lot more powerful and smarter than everything that humanity came up with so far.'

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment
Vladimir Putin in the Arctic in 2010; below, a polar bear cub who had to be rescued by rangers after a tin can got stuck in its mouth. Pictures: Kremlin.ru, The Siberian Times 


Action by the Ministry of Defence is seen as having a major impact. 

General Dmitry Bulgakov, deputy head of the ministry, said: '6,540 tons of scrap metal has been collected in 2016 in the Arctic islands, although the amount planned for the year was 4,500 tons.' 

Much of the junk collected is the most dangerous to the environment, it is believed. 

'The aim is for complete cleansing of Defence Ministry territory in the Arctic from environmental waste, (a goal )set by Russia's president, will be completed by 2020.' 

Meanwhile, the Emergencies Ministry has said that 15% of the Russian Arctic zone has a critical level of environmental pollution.

More than half of the total emission of pollutants is due to the Norilsk agglomeration and areas of oil and gas fields in Western Siberia, it has been said.

In Norilsk - the world's largest nickel producing area - major efforts are underway to clean the environment. 

A check by the Russian General Prosecutor's Office found more than 8,000 violations of the law on recycling of waste. 

More than 1,000 lawsuit were sent to the court on these violations, and 840 people were convicted. 

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment


Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment
'6,540 tons of scrap metal has been collected in 2016 in the Arctic islands, although the amount planned for the year was 4,500 tons'. Pictures: Greenpeace Russia


Numerous illegal swamps and landfills in the Arctic zone were revealed. 

The prosecutors say that the Arctic has unique natural and climatic conditions, including flora and fauna, as well as significant reserves of energy resources, especially oil and gas, production of which is extremely difficult and dangerous for the environment. 

Due to the long winter season for these areas, there is significant decomposition of harmful substances, leading to the accumulation of garbage which is is dangerous for nature. 

This highlights that not all the problems are in the past. Every year 252 million tons of I-V hazard class waste is produced in Yakutia, most of it in the mining industry. 

500 tons of industrial and household waste has built up over this year alone. 

Map of shame: Greenpeace highlights junk and debris in dozens of sites across the 'pristine' environment
Polluted Arctic. Picture: Greenpeace Russia


Yet there are encouraging signs. 

Meteorologist Aleskander Oboimov, a member of the Russian Geographic Society, recounted a return visit to Zhelaniya Cape in the Severny island of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.

'As soon as we landed, we were amazed by cleanliness and order across the territory of former polar station Zhelaniya Cape,' he said. 'When we landed here three years ago, the remains and traces of human activity ... were awaiting for us. 

'And, of course, there were [empty] barrels everywhere....piles of rusty fuel barrels, equipment rotting in the salty sea wind, and dozens of polar bears living in houses abandoned by people. 

'It's not an coincidence that there is a saying popular between polar researchers: 'No windows, no doors, the house is full of bears'.

'This was the case at the polar station Zhelaniya Cape. Now it's all in the past. There is a new cosy house away from abandoned buildings and outdated equipment.

'Aleksander Kulakov, an employee of Russkaya Arktika ('Russian Arctic') national reserve, told me that nearly all the Arctic rubbish has been removed from Zhelaniya Cape. 

'Employees of the contractor Arctic Consulting Service CJSC collected all the rubbish under strict control of inspectors of the national park who ensure adherence to regime of specially protected territory.'

Comments (7)

Oh my such a backlog of disgusting diverse dangerous materials and recycling would make good use of most of it great idea to use it for incentive to bring other side unemployed brave people looking to be proud of their beautiful country much of it was done in ignorance of how bad it could become now aware Putin should be glad to make a plan to clean it us while helping many who need a task to make their life's work something to be proud of again my three visits to Russia by ship, plane and train impressed me greatly a fantastic place to get to visit at 82 I am still hoping to visit again lovely people who made each visit wonderful thank you and make this beautiful again Poor little PolarBaby bear glad he was helped
Patricia a Gothard , Laguna woods CA USA
01/04/2017 00:25
2
0
I am used to seeing beautiful pictures on "Siberian Times" site, but these are shocking. Maybe if Putin & Medvedev returned/gave up their corrupt gains to the people of Russia? These pictures could return to being, "Beautiful" again. But I suppose now that corruption is too deep in their blood for them to do anything good.
Jaker, Dundalk
31/03/2017 09:48
2
4
Reminders of 70 years of Soviet indifference to the Russian people and their environment
Paul, Canada
31/03/2017 02:24
5
0
I would be happy even to live here
AF, usa
30/03/2017 04:36
1
1
get and give incentives to people who want to work there and clean up. cccp had used good steel. still can be recycled. cut up all the wood and if it is being used for nothing else than plywood. will save many a tree, if not a whole forest or two.
Benedikt MORAK, Moscow
29/03/2017 23:13
12
0
What a mess there is money to be made recycle or fie wood also.

Todd, Austrailia
29/03/2017 20:42
9
0
Maybe if there was a good price offered for scrap metal, the place would be cleaned up.
Darwin, USA
29/03/2017 20:10
12
0
1

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