RUSAL’s scandalous public hearing was finally recognised as valid in Krasnoyarsk. The event that took place in Krasnoyarsk’s Sovetsky District Administration in mid-October developed into a scandal hardly resembling a hearing.
Aluminium is a sore point for Krasnoyarsk with its smelter KrAZ being one of the city’s three major air polluters. Although local inhabitants would be happy to change the situation, there are no quick solutions. And as is often the case with environmental problems, public hysteria is being fueled up. The hearing on the aluminium smelter was a telling illustration of that. As wek.ru previously reported, it all but turned into a mass fight. The atmosphere of the event reminded many people of the scandalous TV show Okna (“Windows”) from the 1990s.
Russian had adopted new rules and created a register of major industrial enterprises, each of them having to face the said procedure and obtain local inhabitants’ agreement for their production plans. Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Smelter was a sort of a trailblazer, says Alexander Zakondyrin, Deputy Chairman of the Public Council for the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. At a recent press conference, the Ministry’s and RUSAL’s representatives announced the hearing had been recognised as valid. The holding’s main argument is that it has been reducing the amount of emissions for over a decade now. They believe environmentalists have no reason whatsoever to criticise the Eco-Soderberg technology that helped the plant reduce several times their fluoride and sulphur dioxide emissions. According to the smelter’s figures, fluoride emissions reached their annual peak of nearly 12,000 tons in 1980, falling to 3,600 tons in mid-1990s and to 2,000 tons in 2008. Last year, the amount of emissions was as small as 918 tons.
Krasnoyarsk Mayor’s Office officially recognised the hearing as valid. The city administration believes the hearing enabled people “to listen to reports by the customer and EIA experts, to make statements, to share comments and suggestions, and to ask questions”. However, witnesses say it was quite the opposite in that atmosphere of chaos. Krasnoyarsk authorities, in their turn, admit RUSAL and local inhabitants have disputes on a number of issues. Thus, people deem it necessary that the enterprise’s buffer area (“sanitary protection zone”) should be extended and that the term of further emissions reduction should be shortened. Some voice the idea to reduce aluminum production—currently about 1 m tons a year—and to asses health risks within an environmental impact assessment (EIA). “All the disputes will be taken care of by AO RUSAL Krasnoyarsk and considered in finalised EIA documents, an environmental efficiency programme and documentation for a complex environmental permission”, the Mayor’s Office says.
Public opinion varies from strict disapproval to moderate optimism. “Krasnoyarsk is the only place in the world where the least advanced technology is used in such a big aluminium smelter”, says local public activist Natalya Podolyak. “RUSAL uses non-prebaked anodes called “cancer anodes” in professional slang. They contain tars, which are actively emitted as benzopyrene during electrolysis. Benzopyrene is a colourless and odourless carcinogenic gas no filters can protect from”.
“The aluminium smelter is part of the Clean Air federal project under which it must upgrade its production and reduce emissions within six years. Although the plant is implementing environmental programmes, Krasnoyarsk still has air pollution issues, which affect people living in Zelenaya Roshcha and Severny districts. The plant has yet to solve these problems”, says Pavel Gudovsky, Chairman of the Environmental Chamber of Krasnoyarsk Krai Civil Assembly. “Clearly, KrAZ is not a confectionery; it has a significant impact on the city’s atmosphere”, chamber member Viktor Dolzhenko told wek.ru. “But we can recall the times when the plant and its territory were constantly enveloped by blue mist and people working in the shops couldn’t see the walls. The enterprise is making drastic changes now, and old equipment is being replaced. It is a steady process, though not as fast as some may wish”.
By the way, it is widely noticed that RUSAL does everything to evade discussions on inert anodes, despite having previously announced its soonest implementation. Inert anodes are currently the most advanced technology where the electrolyser produces pure oxygen instead of harmful substances. The plant is known to have experimental production based on inert anodes, yet it remains shrouded in mystery. KrAZ’ opponents claim it’s nothing but bluff and make-believe. According to wek.ru sources at the plant, tests are really being carried out, but KrAZ doesn’t manage to solve the quality problem and obtain aluminium of the required grade. The metal they currently produce using inert anodes is only good for remelting.
It remains unclear how much more time it will take to solve the problem. Apparently, Russia is not the only country stuck in that dead end. Although everybody talks about the need to use inert anodes, no country in the world has such production yet.