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Russian town sees choice between jobs, environment

 In this undated file photo issued by the environmental group Greenpeace, the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill is seen on Lake Baikal, some 2,600 miles east...

Russia Baikal Plant

In this undated file photo issued by the environmental group Greenpeace, the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill is seen on Lake Baikal, some 2,600 miles east...

Management of a paper mill on the shore of the world's oldest and largest freshwater lake say the mill's reopening poses no accident risk to Lake Baikal's unique and fragile ecosystem.
Factory management, which held a news conference in Moscow with plant workers Thursday, said that the pulp plant provides desperately needed jobs in remote eastern Siberia, and claimed that operations there pose "no risk of any technology-related accidents."
But Yevgeny Usov, a spokesman for Greenpeace Russia, on Thursday called the planned plant reopening a hazard to "each and every species in Baikal."
With more fresh water than America's Great Lakes combined, the 20 to 30 million-year-old lake is home to an estimated 1,500 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
"If some pipe bursts, it will cause an environmental disaster _ all life in the southern part (of the lake) will be destroyed," Usov said, turning a turquoise jewel set in the vast Siberian taiga "into an ordinary pond."
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last week ordered the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill, part-owned by billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to restart production 15 months after it closed due to pollution concerns.
The Russian government said its plan to reopen the plant in the next few months would put 1,500 people in the eastern Siberia town of Baikalsk back to work.
The town, located 2,600 miles east of Moscow, has a total population of only 17,000 and the plant closure hit the local economy hard.
Mill managers said they've already installed new technology that would allow the plant to operate without dumping waste, but the equipment requires several years of testing.
Managers, workers and Baikalsk officials say the reopening will not solve all of the town's problems, but will give them some relief while they come up with a comprehensive jobs plan.
Mayor Valery Pintaev said the town is considering building a water bottling plant and developing its tourism industry.
Managers said Deripaska and other plant owners have spent about 1 billion rubles ($33 million) since October 2008 supporting laid-off workers and running the local power station, which provides heat to a town where temperatures routinely fall below 30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in winter.
"We've incurred so many losses, I can't even talk about it," said Arkady Akimov, a member of the factory's board of directors.
Factory workers have written a thank-you letter to Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev for "taking an unpopular step" and reopening the plant.
Anna Groshikova, who has been working at the plant since 1988, told reporters in Moscow she and her co-workers want to stay in Baikalsk: "We don't want to leave anywhere. No one is waiting for us out there."

Updated : 2021-08-06 04:22 GMT+08:00