Baikal pulp mill closed

Posted: 5 January 2009 in Pollution, Russia

The Baikal Pulp and Paper mill in Baikalsk has had a troubled history. Since it started operations in 1966 it has polluted Lake Baikal. It was one of the few targets of environmental protests during the Soviet Union period. Before the mill was built, scientists from the Irkutsk State University’s Scientific Institute of Biology spoke out against Nikita Khrushchev’s plans to build a pulp and paper mill on the shore of Lake Baikal. Marina Rikhvanova, a founder of the NGO Baikal Ecological Wave and the 2008 winner of the Goldman Prize, is among those fighting to close down the mill.

In December 2007, Russia’s environmental protection agency, Rosprirodnadzor, imposed a five-day ban on dumping waste into Lake Baikal and filed a lawsuit against the company for damages of US$19.9 million. Rosprirodnadzor subsequently increased the legal claim to US$176 million. The company installed a closed water cycle, at a cost of US$11.4 million, which started operating in September 2008.

Shortly after installing the closed water cycle, the pulp mill closed down. The owners, Continental Management are laying off 1,377 workers out of a total of 2,300 and say that the pulp mill will not restart before 10 February 2009. RISI quotes this explanaion from a company spokesman:

“The technology of bleached pulp production involves chloride-bearing components, which is not compatible with the usage of a closed-loop water purification system,” he explained. “The production of bleached pulp is the most cost-efficient for the mill. And its termination has led to a financial crisis at the plant. On October 2, we halted all other operations at the mill,” the spokesman added.

No, that doesn’t make much sense to me either. Surely the management knew that chlorine bleaching was not compatible with a closed-loop water system, before they spent the money on installing it. And they knew that chlorine free bleaching would be a good idea – consulting firm Jaakko Pöyry advised them of this more than ten years ago.

One possible explanation is that the firm is currently in talks with the state authorities to return to chlorine bleaching, without the closed-loop water system. In other words, let us pollute the lake, or we’ll give you 2,300 unemployed people to deal with.

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