Norilsk pollution, Russia

Norilsk is one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world and "Norilsk Nickel", a big mining and the metallurgical complex, is to blame for that.


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.

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Basic Data
NameNorilsk pollution, Russia
CountryRussian Federation
SiteNorilsk, 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 ore exploration
Mineral processing
Metal refineries
Specific CommoditiesNickel, palladium, platinum, cobalt
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsWith 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
Potential Affected Population170,000
Company Names or State EnterprisesNorilsk Nickel from Russian Federation - Polluter
Relevant government actorsThe President of Russian Federation
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGreenpeace Russia (
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement 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
OtherAcid 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
OtherLung 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-economic ImpactsVisible: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place
OtherHigh price of life
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
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 AlternativesThe 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 as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

The Environmental Movement and Environmental Politics (pg. 212)
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Nickel Mining in Russia – Norilsk Nickel & Amur Minerals
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Where the river runs red: can Norilsk, Russia's most polluted city, come clean?
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Завод "Норникеля" снизил мощности после сообщений о "красной" реке
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Russian metals firm admits spillage turned river blood red
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Siberia's Environmental Nightmare: World's Largest Source of Acid Rain
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Media Links

Greenpeache photos of air pollution in Norilsk
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Life in Norilsk: Adapting to extreme climate and ecological challenges
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Scenes From The World's Northernmost Big City—A Polluted Hell On Earth
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Viaje a Norilsk, el contaminado corazón minero de Rusia en pleno Ártico
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Other Documents

Dead forest near Norilsk The pollution from the mining and the metallurgical complex in the Norilsk city has killed the surrounding vegetation.
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Norilsk-the most polluted city in Russia "Norilsk Nickle" company polluting the city.
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Other CommentsNGO 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
ContributorJovanka Spiric, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at)
Last update09/05/2017