The decision to launch permanently the Baikalsk Pulp & Paper Mill, with renewed emissions of poisonous sewage into Lake Baikal, is surrounded by myths which we will try to dispel in this article. Our style is intentionally dry, to make clear the facts and not emotions or slogans which the proponents of the plant's reopening appeal to.
The meaning of the Russian Government Decision #1 of 13 January 2010, "On changes into the List of activities banned in the Central Ecological Zone of the Baikal Natural Territory".
The Decision consists of three points. Although they concern, first and foremost, the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill (BPPM), they also open up the way to Baikal for other dangerous projects, by making changes to the "List of activities banned in the central ecological zone of the Baikal Natural Territory" (Russian Government Decision #643 of 30.08.2001):
a) Paragraph 12 is removed:
"ban on the production of cellulose, paper, carton, or derivatives thereof without using waste-free systems of industrial water usage"
Until 2008, the Baikalsk PPM emitted into the lake about 120 thousand cubic metres of sewage daily (see below for its effects). Despite the fact that Decision #643 prohibited this, the owners of the plant appealed to the lack of defined borders of "ecological zones" in the Baikal natural territory. In 2006 these borders were reaffirmed by the Russian Government Decree #1641-r of 27.11.2006. Since then, the BPPM and its sewage became illegal, but this did not stop them. Instead, the decree became another chapter in Baikalsk PPM's "dirty history".
Since Decision #1 comes into force, the Baikalsk PPM can pollute the lake again, with no limits on time, amounts, or content. This requires special attention. There have been many announcements that the permission to pollute is given for 10 months according to some sources, or 3-4 years according to others. Supposedly, this will be the time it takes to either introduce a closed water cycle, or reform the plant to produce something else. However, firstly, the Decision gives no time limits. And secondly, a brief glance at the history of the mill's relationship with the state shows that there have been multiple promises to reform the mill or stop the emissions, but nothing happened.
b) Paragraph 46 is changed to
"storage, burial, and decontamination of newly produced waste of hazard categories I-V [is prohibited] beyond specially equipped sites, created based on permits issued according to legislation"
This means that waste of every level of hazard now can be stored on the shores of Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage property.
The Baikal PPM produces waste of every one of the five hazard categories defined by Russian regulations (Report by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources "On the situation of Lake Baikal and measures on its protection in 2007", page 181). Until 13 January 2010, the most hazardous waste had to be utilised by specialised agencies. Now, for example, sulphuric acid can be stored and reprocessed directly at the mill, dozens of metres away from Baikal.
c) In paragraph 47, the words "by burning" are to be followed by "without purifying emissions to a normative standard".
Some may think that burning can be a way to "decontaminate" waste, but ash produced as a result is often more toxic, if smaller in volume. Considering that no waste-burning technology can guarantee environmentally acceptable and economically justifiable purification of gas emissions, we have to conclude that this method of "decontamination" is unjustifiable.
We should also underline the impossibility of proper control over this kind of dangerous process. As the public campaign against the construction of new waste-burning facilities in Moscow and St Petersburg has showed, proper control over quality of emissions is still all but impossible to enforce in Russia. Regular monitoring of dioxins does not exist at all.
So here are the results of the Prime Minister Putin's approval of the Decision #1 on 13 January 2010.
- Baikalsk PPM can emit unlimited amounts of toxic waste
- Any kind of waste, including the most hazardous, can be stored, reprocessed, or burned
Legal analysis of Decision #1
Directly after the Decision was issued, Greenpeace Russia prepared its legal analysis and sent it to President Medvedev.
The Decision contradicts both Russian and International law, including the UNESCO International Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This is confirmed by experts such as the Chair of the Scientific Council on Baikal of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Academician Mikhail Kuzmin and the Council's Secretary, Irina Maksimova.