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Cleaning up the top of the world from Murmansk to Chukotka

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31 July 2012


Franz Josef Land archipelago, picture: Russian Geographical Society

Expeditionary ship Polaris sails this week for the Franz Josef Land archipelago in a project announced by Vladimir Putin in 2010. 

This year the operation concentrates on Karl Alexander Land finishing in October, while next year attention switches to  other remote outposts in the archipelago, including Graham Bell Island, currently closed to visitors.

'Your expedition is in effect the start of a big new project to give the Arctic a thorough clean-up,' said the president as he met the 135 participants in the initial phase of the project in Archangelsk on Monday. On Franz Josef Land alone there are more than 500,000 barrels containing fuels and lubricants, many already leaking and rusting, he said. 

'I have seen this with my own eyes. There are 15,000 tons of scrap metal, 15,000 tons in this one place alone.

'This is a colossal job, and it is work that we will have to do not only on Franz Josef Land, but throughout the entire Arctic from Murmansk to Chukotka. 

'This is a huge but very useful and needed undertaking for our country and indeed for the world in general. '

The initial expedition was 'a symbolic event for Russia', he said.

'It confirms our growing presence in the Arctic. We will increase our efforts and work in many areas here, developing new deposits and building new infrastructure, above all ports, roads, bridges and so on. 

'Of course, we will also bolster our military presence here too. In all of this work we will strive for a balance between development and preservation of the natural environment.'

Putin stressed the Arctic is 'an ecosystem of vital importance for the whole planet. 

'We therefore need to take particular care of this region. Of course we will act carefully here, and in doing so we will need to put resources into environmental safety.

'Unfortunately, we also need to deal with the burden of damage that built up here over previous decades, and so, before starting active work to carry out our new plans, we first need to clean up the legacy past generations have left behind.'

The garbage to be removed was accumulated from the 1930s to the 1990s. The waste will be stored initially before it is removed to the mainland. 

A total of 2.3 billion rubles ($70 million) has been earmarked for the clean-up of the next three years, he said. 

The opening phase is organised by the Russian Geographical Society and the Natural Resources Ministry, the Sevmorgeo Monitoring Centre and the Polar Foundation.

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