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Norilsk pollution, Russia

Norilsk is one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world and "Norilsk Nickel", a big mining and the metallurgical complex, is to blame for that.


Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia is one of the largest arctic cities (over 170,000 people). This area is rich in nickel, copper, palladium and cobalt deposits that have been discovered and started being exploited at the beginning of the 20th century. Since 1930's the city is the home to “Norilsk Nickle” the biggest mining and the metallurgical complex (six underground mines) in the world. The citizens experience noxious gases emitted from the mining and industrial activities, while even more extreme condition of pollution are experienced daily by the workers in the mining and metallurgical complex. The pollution consist of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, phenol, and chlorine that contaminated both air and water and therefore had an negative impact on local lakes and the fragile tundra ecosystem. According to the Blacksmith Institute (2007), Norilsk is one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Norilsk pollution, Russia
Country:Russian Federation
State or province:Siberia
Location of conflict:Norilsk, Taimyr, Krasnoyarsk Krai
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Mineral processing
Metal refineries
Specific commodities:Coal
Nickel, palladium, platinum, cobalt
Project Details and Actors
Project details

With more than 1.8 billion tons of nickel-copper-palladium it represent the largest deposits in the world.

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:170,000
Company names or state enterprises:Norilsk Nickel from Russian Federation - Polluter
Relevant government actors:The President of Russian Federation
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace Russia (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Boycotts of companies-products
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsAcid rain and smog, heat in factories
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsLung disease, digestive malfunction, cancer, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular degeneration, and blood disorders. The risk of cancer in Norilsk is two times greater and life expectancy is 10 years lower than in the rest of Russia. Respiratory diseases result in 15.8 percent of local child deaths. Women in Norilsk suffer from late-term pregnancy complications and premature delivery. Blood illnesses were 44% higher, nervous system illnesses 38% higher, and bone and muscle system illnesses 28% higher among children in Norilsk than in the Krasnoyarsk region as a whole, according to the Blacksmith Institute research. However, the health effects is limited by a lack of objective pollution data and longitudinal studies.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsHigh price of life
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Industrial workers are compensated for the risks with 90 days of vacation and an early retirement at age 45.
Development of alternatives:The local people stay largely quiet against the company due to their economic dependency on the nickel-palladium smelting plant. Instead more critique came from Greenpeace Russia demanding reduction of pollution.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although company made some environmentally responsible moves to reduce the pollution level, the case is still far from reaching environmental justice. The recent accident with the Daldykan river suggest that a further effort by the company is needed to cut off the pollution and restore the affected environment without compromising the local population economic situation.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

The Environmental Movement and Environmental Politics (pg. 212)
[click to view]

Nickel Mining in Russia – Norilsk Nickel & Amur Minerals
[click to view]

Завод "Норникеля" снизил мощности после сообщений о "красной" реке
[click to view]

Where the river runs red: can Norilsk, Russia's most polluted city, come clean?
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Siberia's Environmental Nightmare: World's Largest Source of Acid Rain
[click to view]

Russian metals firm admits spillage turned river blood red
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Life in Norilsk: Adapting to extreme climate and ecological challenges
[click to view]

Greenpeache photos of air pollution in Norilsk
[click to view]

Scenes From The World's Northernmost Big City—A Polluted Hell On Earth
[click to view]

Viaje a Norilsk, el contaminado corazón minero de Rusia en pleno Ártico
[click to view]

Other comments:NGO Bellona from Norway accused Norlisk Nickel for being the greatest pollutant of the Arctic environment, particularly for the trans-boundary impact of its installation at the Kola Peninsula in Murmansk region.
Meta information
Contributor:Jovanka Spiric, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at)
Last update18/08/2019
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