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Protest against heavy pollution from Russian nickel plant in Kirkenes, Norway

Civil society groups protest for three decades against the smelter in Nikel, only a few kilometres from Russia's border to Norway.


Kirkenes is a small town in far northeastern Norway, close to the Finnish and Russian borders [1].  In Kirkenes a popular movement against a nickel plant in the locality of Nikel in the Pechengsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Kola peninsula, took place in 1990. The polluting nickel plant is only 7 km from the Norwegian border. It seems that it will be finally closed down in 2020. Back in 1990, the movement was called  «Stop the Soviet Death Clouds» marked the start of a long-lasting Norwegian battle against Russian nickel polluters which continued for a long time [1]. Members of the movement took bold action in their bid to stop the Russian polluters. The movement managed to attract wide-reaching attention from all of Norway [1] [2]. This early environmental movement was joined by some 40 percent of Norwegians living in areas abutting the new Russian border [6].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Protest against heavy pollution from Russian nickel plant in Kirkenes, Norway
State or province:Sør-Varanger
Location of conflict:Kirkenes
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Metal refineries
Specific commodities:Copper
Iron ore
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Today, Norilsk-Nickel is one of the most profitable non-petroleum companies in Russia. Its net profit in 2012 was $2,1 billion, or 41 times more than the total Norwegian offer for emissions reduction [3]. In October 2011, the company presented a strategy development program that aims to boost its net income to $10 billion; and market value to a range of $140 billion to $250 billion by 2025 --- and decide to invest in clean smelting technology at its plant in Nikel [3].

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Level of Investment:250, 000,000,000 (value of Norilsk company)
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:3529 Kirkenes, Norwey+12,756 Nikel, Russia
Start of the conflict:01/01/1990
Company names or state enterprises:Norilsk Nickel from Russian Federation
Relevant government actors:Government of Russia
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Civil society movement of Kirkenes
- Bellona NGO
- Cesilie Hansen, former Sør-Varanger mayor
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Fires, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts, Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents
Other Health impactsRespiratory diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Court decision (undecided)
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:The alternative proposal is to invest in "clean" mining and metallurgic processing to reduce the emissions. However, civil society and environmentalists fear that modernisation of the smelters will and are promoting the business as usual. Still, they hope that the emissions will be reduced [3]. There is talk about closing down the Nikel smelter. [9]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:A 30 years long battle, but the smelter is running. The modernisation will take place probably in 3-4 years. The "death clouds" still cover skies of the cities in the Norwegian and Russian far North.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries


Historien om "Stopp dødsskyene fra Sovjet" av Thorbjørn Bjørkli (redaktør).
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[8]The Impact of a Nickel-Copper Smelter on Concentrations of Toxic Elements in Local Wild Food from the Norwegian, Finnish, and Russian Border Regions. June 2017. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 14(7):694. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph14070694. Martine D. Hansen et al

[2] The Barents Observer 2019: Sulfur cloud from Kola forces Norwegians to stay indoor
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[1] The Barents Observer 2016: 26 years on, Russian death clouds still descend on Norwegian borderlands
[click to view]

[3] Barents Observer: 20-years without pollution solution
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[3] Barents Observer 2013: 20-years without pollution solution
[click to view]

[4] Barents Observer: Mayor lays charges against Norilsk-Nickel on pollution-crime
[click to view]


[5] Bellona NGO:Barents Summit opens as atmospheric pollution rises
[click to view]

[7] The Barents Observer: The new Kirkenes Declaration has environment as a top priority. Still, environmental NGOs fear for green cooperation in the Barents Region.
[click to view]

[9] Would closing a nickel plant spell doom for the town of Nikel, Arctic Russia?. Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer. November 8, 2019
[click to view]

[2] The Barents Observer: 26 years on, Russian death clouds still descend on Norwegian borderlands
[click to view]

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Last update20/02/2020
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