Russia is considering using prisoners to help clean up the Arctic after a massive diesel spill hit the remote Siberian area around the city of Norilsk last year. More than 20,000 tons of diesel polluted the local ecosystem. The oil spill had caused an outcry among the population and had led to the dismissal of the mayor of Norilsk, Rinat Akhmetchin, in October, who was later sentenced to six months in prison for negligence..
At a forum in St. Petersburg last December, Russian prison officials publicly discussed the use of convicts.
The head of Russia’s Federal Prison Service (FSIN), Alexander Kalashnikov, said on March 12 that an agreement to this effect had been reached with the Norilsk city administration.
“Russia’s FSIN is examining the possibility of including convicts in the Arctic zone cleanup,” Kalashnikov said at a meeting, which the prison service also confirmed. He urged prison administrators to continue the issue of penal colonies in the Arctic.
FSIN official Elena Korobkova said that local authorities had already provided premises for up to 56 people. The authorities have been preparing for the establishment of modular structures and correctional facilities in Krasnoyarsk Territory since December.
Convicts could also be used to clean up illegal garbage dumps in the Arkhangelsk region, authorities said. Officials made no mention of possible incentives for prisoners such as reduced sentences or higher wages for serving in the Arctic.
The use of forced labor in large state projects was a common practice in the former Soviet Union during the Soviet era.
Currently, according to official figures, 478,714 people are held as prisoners in 923 state institutions. Of these, 684 are corrective colonies, where prisoners must also perform work during their sentences.
Environmentalists say the spill was the worst such accident in the Arctic and could take years to clean up. Norilsk is one of the most polluted cities in the world and has been suffering from emissions from nickel plants for decades.
Nornickel was ordered to pay 146 billion rubles (1.62 billion euros) on February 5, 2021, for the environmental damage it caused. On March 10, the company announced that it had made the payment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin then announced that the fine of 1.62 billion euros paid by the mining company Nornickel after a spill of fuel will be used to improve the ecology of the region.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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