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Norilsk Nickel FactoryNorilsk SmelterNorilsk From SatelliteNorilsk - Photo Credit: Hans Wendel Blacksmith Institute

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8. Norilsk, Russia

Country: Russian Federation
Location: Located at the base of the Putoran Mountains, Norilsk, a city in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, lies above the Arctic Circle as the farthest northern city in Siberia.


Norilsk has an extremely high level of air pollution from the mining that has occurred there throughout the past decades, leading to major problems with smog and acid rain. Air pollutants include particulates; sulfur dioxide; heavy metals like nickel, copper, and lead; hydrogen sulfide; and phenols.

Area Affected

The entire city of Norilsk is contaminated; so much that since 2001, it has been a closed city (2) to the visitors and citizens of Russia. However, pollution is highest in the 60 kilometers surrounding the mining company headquarters.


The city of Norilsk was officially founded in 1935, and was first used as a labor camp for Siberian slaves. The Putoran Mountains, it was discovered, contained large amounts of nickel, platinum, coal, copper, cobalt, and palladium, with nickel accounting for the most significant deposits. The slaves sentenced to Norilsk worked hard to mine these resources. Many died from the toil, cold temperatures (as average ranges go from -10° to -58° Celsius), or lack of food. Others died while working in the mines from accidents and other health issues.

As mining continued and grew into MMC Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest smelting operation, contaminants spread rapidly. Spewed from multiple smelter chimneys, annual air pollution emissions are now estimated at 500 tons of copper, 500 tons of nickel, and 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide.

People, Animals, Plants and Waterways Effected

Approximately 134,000 people – over half of the current population – are affected by the severe air pollution in Norilsk. The human life expectancy is at least 10 years below that averaged in other Russian cities. Children and pregnant women living near the plant are the most affected, being 1.5 times more likely to become ill. Expectant mothers often deliver prematurely and have complications in the third trimester of pregnancy. Children suffer from chronic respiratory diseases, frequently leading to cancer. This and other pollution-related ear, nose, and throat illnesses account for 15.8% of the recorded childhood deaths.

No trees are living within 48 kilometers (roughly 30 miles) of Nadezhda (meaning “hope”), the largest nickel smelter situated in the city, because of poor air and soil quality.

The Yenisei River and Kola Peninsula, used to transport mined nickel and copper to various locations, have also become polluted from air and soil contaminants.

Clean up Activities

Norilsk Nickel took full responsibility for causing the severe pollution problems. It promised a plan to cut two-thirds of the sulfur dioxide discharge by the year 2015 by investing 1.4 million USD on pollution prevention and reparations to dust and gas removal systems.

As per a Blacksmith Institute1 site inspection in 2007, Norilsk Nickel appears to have kept its word. Nonetheless, though death rates have lowered, some contaminants have increased in quantity along with the rising negative health impacts on women and children. This makes many environmental organizations unsure about the possibility to save such a contaminated city.

How You Can Help

Since Norilsk is a closed city (2), a foreign individual or volunteer group will not be permitted to enter in attempts to clean up and help the city go green. The best way to help decrease pollution in Norilsk and improve the health of the city’s people and environment is to support a worldwide organization whose goal is pollution recovery. The Blacksmith Institute (1) and Greenpeace (3) have both looked into the pollution problems in Norilsk. These organizations accept donations as support of their worldwide efforts.


  • Norilsk Nickel Smelter (a pro-mining/smelting point of view):
  • Pollution Pay-Out:


(1) The Blacksmith Institute, an organization established in New York, was founded in 1999 and works to decrease pollution around the world. (2) A closed city is a city within the former Soviet Union that does not allow foreigners to enter and holds strict policies for the entrance and exit of local citizens. (3) Greenpeace is an organization, founded in 1971, which promotes peaceful ways to address and solve environmental issues.
Submitted by Marisa on Jul 29, 2008