CNN (USA): Russian whistle-blower risked it all and revealed the true scale of the catastrophic oil spill in the Arctic

Norilsk, Russia — Vasily Ryabinin stands on the banks of the river Daldykan and pokes a long stick into the blood orange slush. He picks up a stick, brings the lighter to her, and she breaks out the torch. “Still is well off, says Ryabinin. — It is very likely that these pools stretch across the river and will contaminate her for a very long time”.

We are a few kilometers from the Siberian city of Norilsk, where a month and a half ago at the power plant exploded a huge fuel tank, and the river flooded thousands of tons of diesel fuel. The owner of the factory, metallurgical giant Norilsk Nickel, said that the spill was quickly resolved, and the damage is minimized. Ryabinin donated work and the future of his family in Norilsk, trying to convey to the public the true extent of the worst, according to environmentalists, the disaster of the Arctic.

Summer, two in the morning. The twilight illumines a river that flows through the expanse of tundra to the Arctic ocean. Its surface is coated iridescent film of oil. Under my feet squelching diesel. Ryabinin brought us here on foot along the railway. Since the spill, the area around the site is guarded by security personnel — so for them to get close.

He (Ryabinin approx. ed.) — a rare bird in today’s Russia, the whistleblower, who resigned from Rosprirodnadzor to publish information about the scale of the disaster. Ryabinin said that the scope of the crisis may 29, learned of the photos in Instagram. And immediately became alarmed: Daldykan another river in which spilled fuel flowing into the lake Pyasino. From there, the pollution can reach the Arctic ocean.

A few hours later he was on the river and took the pictures that will soon cause a public outcry. They head tried to get to the plant of Norilsk Nickel, but the police would not let them. According to Norilsk Nickel, into the river from storage resulted more than 20 thousand tons of diesel fuel. Bubbly red stuff mixed with water and destroys all living things in the river and along the banks. “When we got there, everything looked just awful, and the worst has already passed, because it took several hours, says Ryabinin. — The smell of diesel fuel could be heard for half a mile… My boss even smoke I was afraid not to die”.

What he saw was very different from what later told officials and the media — that the spill was quickly brought under control. According to Russian state television, spinning frames, as the crimson stains of diesel Balk at the booms. “It was such a blatant, children lie, I couldn’t believe my eyes — says Ryabinin. — Of course, I decided that we should at least explore the lake, but my Agency had a different opinion, which coincided with the opinion of Norilsk Nickel — is that spill on the river did not go.”

When he found a helicopter to fly to the lake, Rosprirodnadzor ordered the investigation to stop, and that was the last straw, says Ryabinin. Then he announced himself publicly, writing 45-minute video that was found. He concluded that the fuel volume and the rate of flow spread the pollution even further.

Rosprirodnadzor to a request by CNN about the comments not answered. In the email Norilsk Nickel said that the spill continues, and that the company “is guided by the official data of Rosprirodnadzor and the Ministry of emergency situations”, as well as satellite images that show the limits of distribution.

Blogger, youtuber and environmentalist George Casinosan from Moscow in their calculations came to the same conclusions as Ryabinin. “All you need to do is look at the satellite images, to set the area of the red spot and split it into thousands poured out tons, — says Casinosan. — Get that spot must be 50 meters thick, and it’s physically impossible.”

“They grabbed the tail of the spill, and no one even mentioned about what is under the tape. State TV shows spill, claiming that it allegedly did not, and that is on the surface, said Casinosan. — However, below this layer, the hydrocarbons are dissolved and penetrate into all living things — fish, eggs, mud, in everything.”

After watching the video Ryabinin, Casinosan decided to go to the scene, to take independent samples from the lake Pyasino — and find out whether or not the pollution of the lake.

To work in Norilsk difficult. It’s a remote one-industry town where the economy is dominated by one industry and one company is everything. Norilsk is located in the 2 thousand 800 kilometers North-East of Moscow. The city was founded in the days of Stalin as a branch of the Gulag. Land connection with the rest of Russia — it is necessary to fly a plane. And foreigners have to obtain special permission from the Federal security service.

Casinosan says they are with the operator pretended to have come on personal business. They stayed in rented apartments, the main streets were avoided. Night they made their way to the river hoping to find a boat that will take them to the lake. “It was difficult, half of the population works in Norilsk Nickel and the risk is not wanted,” explains Casinosan.

Reach finally the lake, says Evanesyan, they found that the level of contamination by hydrocarbons is 2.5 times higher than officially acceptable. He is the only one who managed to take independent samples from the area.

Others were less lucky. The journalists of “Novaya Gazeta” reported that when he and Basil by Ryabinina explored another area in search of a place where waste water was discharged directly to the tundra, they were constantly harassed by the guards of Norilsk Nickel. The company later admitted the breach in the tailings storage facility and removed the local leadership. Russia’s investigative Committee launched an investigation.

“Greenpeace Russia” also spent two weeks, unsuccessfully trying to take samples from the lake Pyasino — the authorities constantly tried to interfere with their work. A police helicopter found them in a forest hut and confiscated fuel for boats.

Deputy of the Moscow city Duma, who agreed to deliver to the capital samples collected by journalists and activists of Greenpeace, said that last week they were confiscated at the local airport.

In a video published by “Novaya Gazeta”, airport officials say that the airport “is also Norilsk Nickel” and that the removal of water samples requires the permission of the company. Norilsk Nickel in its commentary said that “in the place of valid emergency mode and access to many restricted places”.

This spill is not the first environmental disaster in this part of Siberia — a river turned red from toxic factory waste, as environmental legislation in its infancy. Local residents complain of poisonous air and acidic gases. Ocarina of Norilsk resemble a huge rusty dump with dead trees as far the eye.

“Everything dies,” says local Andrew driver, who asked not to call his name. — People are most afraid of gas. Sometimes the air is so bad that we don’t let children on the street”.

Amid a rare burst of attention to the city and Norilsk Nickel, the company had to explain, to take full responsibility for the spill and the costs of eliminating consequences of the accident. Last week it was reported that it collected more than 90% of any spilled fuel.

In its preliminary assessment, the company explained the catastrophe of the melting of the permafrost, but noted that the investigation is ongoing. The Russian Arctic is really heating up and melting permafrost is fraught with the destruction of local infrastructure. More than 60% of the territory of the country is covered by permafrost. Even this summer in Norilsk is also was abnormally hot.

But Casinosan and Ryabinin doubt that the sudden breakthrough of the tank occurred due to climate change. They believe Russia has enough experience in construction in the permafrost, and she is able if necessary to artificially freeze the earth. In their opinion, is guilty, most likely, poor maintenance and lack of control.

After the scandal and accusations Ryabinin Rostekhnadzor, the government body in charge of maintenance of industrial infrastructure, admitted that his experts could not gain access to the reservoir at the plant of Norilsk Nickel for five years.

Spill even caught the attention of President Vladimir Putin, who in early June held a conference call with the head of Norilsk Nickel Vladimir Potanin. Potanin said that the company will pay about $ 140 million to cover the losses.

“One fuel container is much smaller, — said Putin. If timely changed, and no damage would be environmental, such expenses would not need to carry the company.”

Apart from the rare public attention to the Russian environment, the disaster became even more rare example of the victory of dissent and protest. A few weeks after statements Ryabinin and Kawanatanga state Agency Rosprirodnadzor recognized the pollution of lake Pyasino.

On Wednesday it estimated damage to 14 times higher than the original estimates Norilsk Nickel and asked for a record compensation of 2 billion dollars. The company challenged the assessment, claiming that the Agency based its calculations “on the principles that led to distortion of results and need to be adjusted”. The company assured that it is still true to its commitments to eliminate the effects of the spill at his own expense.

Casinosan called the actions of Rosprirodnadzor “revolutionary” and said the Agency has sent a signal to all companies that decided to “dump waste into rivers and lakes and save on wastewater treatment plants”.

As for Ryabinina, he is preparing to leave Norilsk and move his family to another place. “It is very sad, because I really love the city, the North and don’t want to go anywhere, he said. — But I did it, knowing that to live and work here after I heard that, I can’t.”