The small town of Nikel in the far northwest of Russia is located only seven kilometers from the Norwegian border and about 200 kilometers northwest of Murmansk. The main industry is the exploitation of the regional nickel deposits, which gave the town its name. It all sounds very unspectacular, but the pollution of the environment during the nickel smelting took on such frightening forms, even by Russian standards, that the sulphur dioxide emissions were no longer acceptable. Industrial activity has led to large-scale vegetation loss in the surrounding area.
As announced some time ago, the outdated Nikel smelter no longer met government environmental requirements and has ceased production after 74 years of operation. The production of nickel was partly transferred to Monchegorsk, south of Murmansk. The copper smelter was closed here at the beginning of March 2021. This will now be moved to Norilsk.
Neighbouring Norway welcomed the closure of the Nikel plant. In 2007, emissions from the plant were so high that Oslo considered evacuating its border residents. Local environmental NGO Bellona praised the decision, saying it was a “gift to nature”.
However, the future of the town with its 11,000 inhabitants is uncertain after the closure of the nickel production. The now-closed Nikel plant, with its dilapidated buildings and outdated technology, is scheduled to be dismantled by 2029.
There are plans to invest in tourism in the area in the near future. Several hotels, a marina and facilities for skiing are planned. According to plans, a tourism and adventure center is planned, which in this form has never been seen before in the north of Russia. The tourism project was included in a favorable tax regime recently introduced in the Murmansk region. The Liinakhamari project is presented by NorNickel as a way to replace the economic activity that will be lost with the closure of the Nikel plant. This would allow several hundred people who would be out of work after the closure to find employment.
Nornickel’s problems with the environment
The smelter in Nikel is owned by the mining giant “Nornickel” and has been a major source of pollution for decades. Not only in Nikel, but also in Norilsk in Siberia, where nickel is also produced, there has been massive environmental damage time and again. First, last spring, more than 21,000 tons of diesel oil leaked into the environment from a ruptured tank. Environmentalists spoke of the largest oil spill in the history of the Russian Arctic. Just a few weeks later, 44 tons of fuel spilled into the tundra while unloading a ship. In another incident, environmentalists discovered the discharge of wastewater contaminated with heavy metals into a stream. The fire in a garbage dump outside Norilsk was then only a minor matter.
“Nornickel” claims to have “learned its lesson” after the Norilsk disaster in May 2020.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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