Lake Baikal Under Threat from Molybdenum Mining

by Alesandra Vesemova / Earth First! Newswire

Lake-Baikal-Beautiful-572x322Lake Baikal and Siberia are in danger of ecological disaster.

Today the lake Baikal is the world’s cleanest lake, and in 2012 it was named one of the top-list wonders of Russia. But very soon the lake could turn into a puddle of waste products if local authorities allow foreign companies from Great Britain to mine molybdenum.

There is a scandal in Siberia—a British offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands is planning to open the mining of molybdenum near the river Selenga that flows into Baikal. The mining would poison the whole region around Lake Baikal. The mining process that would be used would contaminate the air and water, forests and farmlands, say local environmentalists. In the extraction of molybdenum the ore will be leached with sulfuric acid. So there will be be explosions during dismantling, caustic dust, a huge seismic threat, and on the banks of the Selenga will be an open pit with a width of 1,5 kilometers and a depth of 500 meters. Residents of Baikal region are outraged—are Russian authorities not able to resist foreign capital?

lake-baikal-map

The idea of the development of molybdenum near Baikal came from the company “Acropolis.” The founder of “Acropolis” is a foreign entity—the UK company registered in an offshore zone in the Virgin Islands. There are six founders including well-known Russian businessman Ahmet Palankoev, who is a senator from Ingushetia region. Interesting that the name of Palankoev is associated with another project that also has incredibly damaged the environment in Siberia. Palankoev also lead the project “Elimination of accumulated environmental damage” in Siberia. Back then the federal money (near $17 million) allocated to clean the ore-bearing waste of Dzhidinsky molybdenum plant disappeared. Above all the ore has not been taken out yet, and land around the plant for miles is poisoned. There is the open question about the threat of human existence in the area, the nearby hospital is constantly receiving people with cancer. Moreover, three workers were killed because of toxic fumes that came out during the drilling of new molybdenum mining.

Development of this molybdenum ore is planned in the district of Buryatia that is a popular international tourist destination. Every year thousands of tourists from different countries come here to touch the ancient culture of the old Russian villages that haven’t changed since the 17th century and of course most of the tourists are attracted by the famous and glorious Lake Baikal and wilderness of Siberia. It seems unlikely that tourists would come to a radioactive zone to see a waste bin of industry!

Lake Baikal is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world's unfrozen surface fresh water,and the deepest.and thought to be the world's oldest lakeat 25 million years.  It is the 7th largest lake in the world.

Lake Baikal is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water,  the deepest lake .and also thought to be the world’s oldest lake at 25 million years. It is the 7th largest lake in the world.

How is it possible that local authorities approved the project so devastating for the region and the whole country? It’s very simple—as it often happens today the dollar decides everything. There were two public hearings on the construction of the molybdenum plant in the spring. In the first public hearing we were gathered a full house of more than 300 people. After a heated discussion, the majority of people (11 “for,” 132 “against”) have not supported the project of the plant and considered it “as devastating for economy and environment.” Then the representatives of “Acropolis” company organized the second hearing, this time closed. Only members of the local geological institute attended. The same employees that got a certain amount of subcontract work on the draft of the Baikal Mining (total amount of $8 million) before the hearings. And at the second hearing the project has been approved as “environmentally friendly.”

Today the mining project is opposed only by locals and some environmentalists. Here are comments of Father Sergius to the resident of the village and the leader of local church:

“The construction of the plant and open pit mining of molybdenum seriously undermine the environment. In addition to huge pits and dumps in the district there would be the bath with the millions of tons of acid. All of this will evaporate, fly into the air, poison people and animals.

Also here is another fact that in the area will be built a huge network of roads for heavy vehicles and trucks. This will lead to the destruction of fields. Today our people live by agriculture and we have one of the best soil and fields in the region. But the construction of the molybdenium plant will lead to the point when our land over time would turn into a desert.

Very suspicious the fact that nobody from the citizens knew what is going on while everything was decided by officials and local government. The information started to leak just before the hearings.

Our people see that the development of molybdenium mining will lead to the destruction of the villages and nature. People will begin to disperse, someone will die here on the spot. Here today mainly live Semeiskie – people with original native Russian culture. While all farms in the country fell apart after the collapse of the USSR, our villages are still living clean and beautiful, all the houses are neat and well maintained. Our people used to live by their labor, but the impact will be so strong that hardly anyone would survive.”

The last public hearing about the development of molybdenum near Lake Baikal will be held at the end of this year. Who will win—the English capital or local residents and environmentalists?

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