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Russia's Putin Declares State Of Emergency After Fuel Spill In Arctic

NOEL KING, HOST:

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, declared a state of emergency in a remote Arctic region of Russia. In that region, 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into a river two weeks ago. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: The accident took place at a power plant in Norilsk, an industrial city north of the Arctic Circle almost 2,000 miles from Moscow. More than 600 workers are now collecting the mixture of oil and water. Natalya Karmanovskaya, a local environmentalist, says it could take decades for the delicate Arctic ecosystem to recover.

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NATALYA KARMANOVSKAYA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She told the Redaktsiya YouTube channel that toxins could enter the food chain, affecting not only aquatic life but also the reindeer population. Four employees of the power plant have been arrested on charges of violating environmental regulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Russia's Investigative Committee said on state TV that Norilsk's mayor was being charged with negligence. The accident has been compared to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. The one big difference is that the diesel fuel has not reached the open sea. Sergey Dyachenko is the chief operating officer of Norilsk Nickel, which owns the fuel tank. He blames global warming for thawing permafrost beneath it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGEY DYACHENKO: There’s something dramatic happen with the temperatures, right? And obviously it actually got an impact on the ground.

KIM: In a call with investors this week, he promised the company would start monitoring the permafrost below its facilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DYACHENKO: I am repeating again that we are going to establish permafrost monitoring systems.

KIM: For now, Norilsk Nickel is focused on the cleanup. It estimates the cost at $150 million. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.