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Norilsk pollution, Russia


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.

“Norilsk Nickle” employs over a half of Norilsk’s population and the citizens have rarely protested environmental pollution. Instead more critique came from Greenpeace Russia, and it is hard to say when the conflict started. President Vladimir Putin visited the city in 2010 and announced an increase in environmental fines if the company do not cut out the amount of pollution. This resulted in increase of the company’s investments in environmental measures in production processes. Further measures included the shouting down of 74 years old nickel factor in 2013, which should reduce emission level for 75%. There is also a plan to install equipment at the copper factory that would reduce sulphur dioxide pollution by 75–80% by 2020, but there is no references to other pollutants. Although there are signs that Norilsk is making efforts to combat its high pollution by replacing old equipment with new more environmentally friendly technology, the pollution still occurs. Most lately in September 2016, local people reported heavy pollution that turned the Daldykan River’s water into red. The Company’s official explanation was that heavy rain caused a filtration dam to flood into the river. 

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 processing
Mineral ore exploration
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.

Norilsk Nickel release over 2 million tons of sulphur dioxide and more than 4 million tons of lead, nickel, arsenic, and other heavy metals annually.

The Norils Nickle complex is worth approximately 2% of Russia's GDP.

By 2014, Norilsk Nickel was producing 44% of the world’s palladium, 14% of its platinum, 13% of its nickel and 2% of its copper.

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)

Nickel Mining in Russia – Norilsk Nickel & Amur Minerals

Завод "Норникеля" снизил мощности после сообщений о "красной" реке

Where the river runs red: can Norilsk, Russia's most polluted city, come clean?

Siberia's Environmental Nightmare: World's Largest Source of Acid Rain

Russian metals firm admits spillage turned river blood red

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Life in Norilsk: Adapting to extreme climate and ecological challenges

Greenpeache photos of air pollution in Norilsk

Scenes From The World's Northernmost Big City—A Polluted Hell On Earth

Viaje a Norilsk, el contaminado corazón minero de Rusia en pleno Ártico

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



Dead forest near Norilsk

The pollution from the mining and the metallurgical complex in the Norilsk city has killed the surrounding vegetation.

Norilsk-the most polluted city in Russia

"Norilsk Nickle" company polluting the city.