The polysilicone plant in Zheleznogorsk, Krasnoyarsk territory, that was commissioned with fanfare 12 years ago has turned into a yet another site of environmental disaster.
The owner abandoned the production facility to the whims of fate. Including the warehouses where trichlorosilane, a very dangerous chemical, is stored. The plant was built by Rosatom, the Russian state atomic energy corporation, on the compound of the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine in the Krasnoyarsk territory. The enterprise was intended as advanced and profit-making. At that time, there was a boom in solar cell production in the world. Polycrystalline silicon was the main raw material for them. At that time, Russia did not have the production of this kind, and everything was purchased abroad. The price per kilogram of polysilicon almost approached $500.
The factory was launched in an official ceremony at the end of 2008. Shortly afterwards, the world financial crisis broke out. The plans to reach the designed capacity of 5,000 tonnes per year had to be shelved. Rosatom focused on finding a private investor, and soon Konti Group, a Ukrainian confectionery manufacturer company based in Donetsk, took on this role. Its business plan envisioned not only the plant’s development, but also the manufacturing of wafers and photovoltaic converters with the capacity of up to 250 MW in the Krasnoyarsk terrotory. While all these statements and rearrangements in the company’s authorized capital were made, hundreds of similar facilities were launched all over the world. First of all, of course, in China. And the prices for polysilicone plummeted. The investor had some doubts when the price per kg fell below $100. However, as time has shown, it was sustainable. Now, for example, 1 kg of polysilicone costs from $15 till $20 in the world market. There are no doubts that this price will stay in place for a long time.
By the way, exactly the same story happened at the same time in the Irkutsk region. The RUSNANO Group, a Russian state company in charge of innovations and development, tried to manufacture polysilicon there. It was building a new enterprise based on the notorious Usoliekhimprom chemical factory. The project was named Nitol. Faced with the invisible hand of the market, Anatoly Chubais, a Russian politician and businessman who was responsible for privatization in Russia as an influential member of Boris Yeltsin's administration in the early 1990s, threw up his hands, and in 2013, the Russian government approved the closure of the investment project.
Konti also lost interest in the plant. At first, it tried to return the company's shares to the state. Then, the group of companies tried to win a payout for the losses incurred, according to its version. The plan was to recover damage of 1.4 bln rubles ($18,774) from the Zheleznogorsk mining and chemical combine, which was the contractor for some works at the enterprise. The lawsuit dragged on for several years. It reached the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which finally rejected Konti in 2015.
“After the failed attempt of the holding to return the plant's shares to the state under the pretext of “a loss of interest,” the polysilicon plant filed a claim for recovery of losses against the mining and chemical combine,” the plant's press service says. “According to the plant, the mining and chemical combine was to carry out additional works on its own initiative and supply additional equipment amounting to 1.06 bln rubles ($14,214.60.)”
Today, the unsuccessful investor is in bankruptcy. A part of the production complex of the mining and chemical combine was transferred to the Federal Property Management Agency by court order. These are exactly the storage facilities where the trichlorosilane necessary for polysilicon production is stored. This is a dangerous chemical substance, which can form poisonous vapors and explode.
“It is a chemical raw material, the circulation of which is restricted,” Alexei Kulesh, the vice-speaker of the legislative assembly of the Krasnoyarsk territory, told wek.ru. “That is why the court handed it over to the Federal Property Management Agency. As its official owner, it is obliged to take measures for safe storage or disposal. But so far, there have been just promises but no progress. The condition of the containers is workless, but not emergency. Some of them are not airtight. Pipelines and pumping systems are completely destroyed. The amount of substance is not known for sure. It is about 320 m3 to 350 m³. There is no direct threat, but the class of health hazard of the substance and its possible impact do not allow postponing the solution of the problem.”
At present, on behalf of the government of the Krasnoyarsk territory, a special commission is working at the plant to determine how big the threat is. It is necessary to decide what to do with the chemicals. According to Kulesh, three years ago the possible option of recycling trichlorosilane was estimated at about 80 mln rubles ($1.07 mln.) As of today, this amount, of course, requires some revision. The issue should be solved as soon as possible. Zheleznogorsk, which works for the needs of the defense industry, is not the best place for an ecological time bomb.