Sulfur dioxide clouds surrounds the smelter in Nikel. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Eco-watchdog gives warning after days of extreme pollution in Nikel

The spring is silent in Nikel, the industrial town near the border to Norway where Russia’s ultra-profitable smelter for nickel for decades has poisoned the surrounding nature.
May 31, 2019


Two and a half years after billionaire and industrialist Vladimir Potanin was sitting face-to-face with President Vladimir Putin promising to modernize the aging and heavily polluting factory in Nikel, sulfur dioxide concentrations are again peaking to maximum of what the air-pollution instruments are calibrated to measure.

On Thursday May 30th, Murmansk Department on Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) issued a warning to the plant to reduce emissions. Due to unfavorable weather conditions, smoke accumulates near ground instead of blowing away with the winds, the eco-watchdog reports on its portal where pollution levels in the region are listed.

There are some 12,000 inhabitants in Nikel.

Roshydromet’s warning comes after several days with air pollution higher than allowed.

On May 26th, sulfur dioxide concentration in the air in Nikel was 10 times maximum allowed. The instruments are not calibrated to measure higher levels then 10 times maximum allowed.

In his meeting with President Putin in February 2017, CEO and main shareholder of NorNickel, Vladimir Potanin, promised action.

“There will be a very serious modernization of capacities, the production of NorNickel will become the most modern and biggest in the world,” he said and added that environmental problems will be resolved, the Barents Observer reported at the time.


Potanin assured emissions will be cut by 75% by 2023. 

The clouds of sulfur dioxide are not only a health issue for people living in Nikel. Eight kilometers to the west is Svanvik, a small village on the Norwegian side of the border where people in January were warned to stay indoor due to high levels of air pollution crossing the border.

Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Ola Elvestuen, raised the pollution issue in his Moscow meeting in February with Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.

“It is a Russian responsibility to reduce emissions,” Elvestuen told the Barents Observer.


Newly white-painted Lenin in front of the smelter in Nikel. Photo: Thomas Nilsen


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