20 000 tons of diesel spills into Siberian River, Putin declares state of emergency

Clean-up operations underway at combined heat and power plant after a fire caused by a car crashing into one of its fuel storage facilities in Siberia.
Clean-up operations underway at combined heat and power plant after a fire caused by a car crashing into one of its fuel storage facilities in Siberia.
Denis Kozhevnikov\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a state of emergency and criticised a subsidiary of metals giant Norilsk Nickel after a massive diesel spill into a Siberian river.

The spill of over 20 000 tons of diesel fuel took place on Friday. A fuel reservoir collapsed at a power plant near the city of Norilsk, located above the Arctic Circle, and leaked into a nearby river.

During a video conference, Putin lambasted the head of the Norilsk Nickel subsidiary that owns the power plant, NTEK, after officials said the company failed to report the incident.

"Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact? Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Are you quite healthy over there?" Putin told NTEK chief Sergei Lipin in an unusually stern dressing-down aired on television.

Alarming

Nornickel has said in a statement that NTEK had reported what happened in a "timely and proper" way.

Krasnoyarsk region governor Alexander Uss told Putin he only "learned of the real situation" on Sunday after "alarming information appeared in social media."

Putin said he agreed that a national state of emergency was needed to call in more resources for the cleanup effort.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which deals with major crimes, announced that it launched three criminal probes into the accident and detained an employee of the power plant.

World Wildlife Fund expert Alexei Knizhnikov said the environmental group was the one who alerted cleanup specialists after confirming the accident through its sources.

"These are huge volumes," he said. "It was difficult for them to cover it up."

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