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Russian mining giant pays a $ 2 billion pollution fine

Rescue workers try to prevent an oil spill from spreading near Norilsk last June. (AP photo)

Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel said on Friday it would not appeal a record $ 2 billion fine after holding the company responsible for a giant fuel leak in the Russian Arctic.

More than 20,000 tons of diesel spilled into lakes and rivers near Norilsk in May last year when a fuel tank collapsed at a power plant owned by Norilsk Nickel.

The spill was one of the worst oil spills in Russia, which is often prone to environmental disasters caused by aging infrastructure and neglect.

“After a comprehensive review of the court ruling … the company has decided not to pursue the appeal,” Gareth Benny, chairman of Norilsk Nickel, said in a statement Friday.

He added that the decision would allow the company to implement the “ambitious sustainable development strategy” that was presented last December.

Earlier this month, a court ordered Norilsk Nickel, one of the world’s largest producers of palladium and nickel, to pay a fine of 146.2 billion rubles (1.9 billion US dollars).

Before the verdict, the group said it would cover the costs of the cleaning but contested the amount of the fine, and assessed the damages to be much lower.

Norilsk Nickel’s Chief Financial Officer, Sergey Malyshev, said Friday that the fine will be paid by reducing profits and dividends.

Vladimir Potanin, the company’s main shareholder and Russia’s richest man, said recently that Norilsk Nickel had “learned an important lesson” from the leak and would review its approach to managing environmental risks.

The company also announced the closure of a copper-nickel smelter in the Kola Peninsula in the northwest of the country, which is believed to be one of the most polluted places in the world due to emissions of sulfur dioxide.

In its annual financial results published earlier this week, the company set itself a target to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions on the peninsula by 85% by the end of 2021.

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