Lake Baikal's Future Imperilled Again by Putin


Image from AFP

TreeHugger has been following the story of the future of Lake Baikal, the "pearl of Siberia", the world's largest and deepest fresh water body. Because of its age and isolated location, it contains unusual collections of freshwater flora and fauna. It is also a site of great controversy: activists fought to reroute a petroleum pipeline from its shore and then fought to relocate a nuclear enrichment centre. Last year they were successful in closing down a pulp and paper factory which pumped toxic waste into the lake.

But alas, in Putin's Russia, when an oligarch wants something, he gets it, and the pulp and paper factory has been re-opened, by edict of the Prime Minister. The news has just come out that last week he signed a decree that removed waste discharges from a list of things that are banned by environmental laws. In other words, take it out of the law and then it doesn't exist.
Image from iconocast.com

In the summer, Mr. Putin made a trip around the lake in a mini-submarine and pronounced it to be "ecologically clean." "I see the bed of Lake Baikal and it is clean," he said, speaking from 1.4 kilometers beneath the surface. Later, he said, "There is practically no environmental damage." This was a red flag for environmentalists, who guessed then that something was up.

Putin says that he is saving jobs in the remote town of Baikalsk. When the plant was closed last year because of polluting, the 2,000 workers went on a hunger strike and the future of the town was in danger, according to the Prime Minister.

So was Oleg Deripaska's huge financial empire. He had been the richest oligarch but had suffered due to the fiscal slowdown. Two years ago he was ordered to introduce a closed-loop waste-treatment system into the plant. Pouring money into the plant to make it cleaner was one of the last things that he would want to spend money on. Instead he shut it down. Reputedly he has a direct line to the PM's ear.


Image from sflorg.com
Greenpeace said that "The Baikal Pulp and Paper plant is an ecologically dangerous enterprise. It simply has no place on the shores of the sacred lake. To allow chemical wastes to be dumped there: What else can you call it but a crime?"

Environmentalists are vowing to fight again. They say that the lake's status as a world heritage site is under threat.

Tags: Activism | Ecology