Waterways near Russia’s Siberian city of Norilsk have been rapidly polluted by a spill of more than 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel in recent days, according to state media.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Wednesday a state of emergency, dedicating federal resources to the clean-up effort. He said local officials had been inefficient in dealing with the disaster.
“A portion of the petroleum products have spilled into the Ambarnaya River, a significant portion,” Putin said in a meeting with senior officials, according to a Kremlin transcript.
The spill occurred on Friday when a diesel tank ruptured at a thermal power plant, according to a statement by the city’s main employer, metals miner Nornickel.
Melting permafrost amid abnormally warm temperatures is believed to have caused a collapse of a structure that had been been supporting the tank, the company said.
About 6,000 tonnes of diesel have seeped into the ground and another 15,000 ended up in nearby waterways, state news agency TASS reported, citing a state environmental protection agency.
Authorities estimated that it would take at least two weeks to clean up the area, TASS reported on Wednesday.
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Russia’s Investigative Committee, which deals with major incidents, announced it launched three criminal probes over environmental violations and detained an employee of the power plant.
Alexey Knizhnikov, World Wildlife Fund expert, told AFP news agency the environmental group alerted clean-up specialists after confirming the accident through its sources.
The accident is the second largest in modern Russian history in terms of volume, Knizhnikov said.
It is only exceeded by a crude oil spill in the northwestern region of Komi that took place over several months in 1994, he said.