Norilsk, "The most polluted place on Earth"

2021 CENorilsk, Russia

"Built as a resource colony by prisoners in the Soviet Gulag, Norilsk outlasted communism, embraced capitalism, and it now aims to ramp up production to sell the metals needed for electric vehicle batteries and the clean energy economy. Norilsk Nickel is the world’s leading producer of the high-purity Class 1 nickel . . . But Norilsk Nickel has undermined its own vision for the future by spoiling a priceless environment, with implications for the entire planet. The company’s pollution has carved a barren landscape of dead and dying trees out of the taiga, or boreal forest, one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. Its wastewater has turned glacial rivers red. Its smokestacks belch out the worst sulfur dioxide pollution in the world. And [in 2020], a corroded tank burst and released 6.5 million gallons of diesel fuel into waters that flow to the Kara Sea. It was the largest oil spill in Arctic history . . . Satellite readings show that no other human enterprise — no power plant, no oil field, no other smelter complex — generates as much sulfur dioxide pollution as Norilsk Nickel. In fact, the only entities on Earth that rival its sulfur emissions are erupting volcanoes, according to a monitoring project led by scientists at NASA and Environment Canada. At 1.9 million tons of sulfur dioxide emissions annually, Norilsk produces as much sulfur pollution as the entire U.S. — all concentrated in a city the size of Eugene, Oregon."

Marianne Lavelle, "How Norilsk, in the Russian Arctic, became one of the most polluted places on Earth," Inside Climate News, NBC News, November 28, 2021.

Image: Ninara from Helsinki, Finland, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons