An engineer, former head of the installation department of the construction complex of the Norilsk Metallurgical Plant (now Nornickel) Vladimir Grienspon shared his opinion on the accident in Norilsk with Novye Izvestia.
- Vladimir Markovich, did you build the Norilsk Combine?
- Yes. And to me, as a participant in the construction of the enterprise and a person who has lived in Norilsk for more than 30 years, the story of the leakage of the diesel fuel at the CHPP is visible from a completely different angle. Cries of damage to nature are already fifty years behind. Ponds and soils of the tundra in Norilsk, which absorbed 21 tons of the contents of the bursting tank, have long been ditched by the tailings of the processing plants. This waste is a thousand times more harmful than diesel. What spawning grounds are they talking about?! No one has been fishing there for decades. She smells of chemistry - eat such a fish - and immediately to the morgue.
- You want to say that the water areas in Norilsk are poisoned by toxic substances systematically and for a long time? How does this happen?
- Concentrating plants in the North are satellites of metallurgical and mining enterprises, and they have been there for several years, as you understand. We will have to go a little deeper into the technological aspect. How are the final metal products obtained? First, underground ore is mined - it is several times heavier than stone, it contains 56 elements of the periodic table. To separate metals from ore, it is crushed. Passing through a system of aggregators, the ore turns into fractions - first up to the size of a fist, then - with crushed stone, then - dust. Dust is placed in flotation machines - thus nickel rich particles are separated from copper rich particles. Particles are divided by placing in a pulp - mixed with water, add reagent and let air through. Bubble foam forms. Particles containing nickel adhere to the bubbles, and copper settles. The metal extraction process is completed. But every day there are tons of unnecessary fractions that remain in the liquids and merge into the tailings. In the late 90s, when I left, there were two enrichment plants in the area - Norilskaya and Talnakhskaya 30 kilometers from it. Now there may be more.
- With these tailings and constant problems. Something leaks from them all the time. Why?
“These are ordinary dike fenced fields”. They were never leakproof, they were simply not conceived as such during the design. Since the 70s, part of the tailings constantly falls into the Norilsk River and the huge glacial lake Pyasino (90 per 150 km). The water system of Norilsk is these rivers. Upstream - crystal clear ponds, lakes, excellent ecology. Down - water and soil are poisoned, already at the end of the 90s, clogging was comprehensive and it was clear that something needed to be done.
- What prevents to attend to the tightness of these sediment tanks now?
- It is impossible to make airtight pools with an area of several tens of square kilometers, growing every year. On a budget, it’s the same as rebuilding a new dam at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station every year.
“But in the rest of the world, Europe, Canada, and the USA, they somehow manage to render waste harmless.”
- You see, the policy of the Soviet state in the construction of these facilities is either production and the inevitable dirt, or immediately close. No one hid that these are very destructive for nature enterprises. For this reason, in fact, it was deployed in the Arctic, suggesting that these territories would never be used after. Workers at the plant, who managed these same units in the shops to extract nickel and copper, retired at age 45, according to the first temporary list.
The second one. What contaminates the area around Norilsk is sulfur dioxide SO2, which is produced by ore smelting. 2.5 million tons per year. Sulfur from Norilsk Nickel is a global problem, because the waste reaches Norway and Canada. There are infinitely many technological difficulties in the extraction of nickel, cobalt, and all platinoids. 20 thousand tons of diesel fuel against this background ..., understand?
- Why are the Daldykan, Barn, all their tributaries, the Pyasina River, which flows into the Kara Sea, every year "temporarily turns red", I quote the leadership of Nornickel.
- Red rivers - this is a mistake in the design of the Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant. It was decided to pump the plant’s waste into the voids in the earth’s crust. The Reds - because the waste from the production of iron, and so they could not stay in the voids and ended up in Dyldykan, Barn, Pyasina, it never bothered anyone. Because either completely stop the plants, or 5-6 billion dollars a year. Now three times as much.
- Let's talk about stilts. In your essays, you wrote that because of the thaw the support structures in Norilsk collapsed already in the 70s.
- In the late seventies in the village of Kayerkan, the mining satellite of Norilsk, the two-story building of the Oleniy Rog restaurant collapsed in an instant. Killed 17 people. Of these, 4 children. The event shocked the entire industrial village. The reason is that the bearing piles of the foundation and floors have formed like a house of cards. In those years, I was a people's assessor in the Norilsk City Court and was called into the process as a specialist.
- You participated in the process and your task as a specialist was to answer the court the question why the piles collapsed?
- Yes. There were two examinations. An examination of the investigation concluded that the destruction of the foundation piles and collapse was caused by thawing of the permafrost layer to a depth of 4.5 meters due to leaks of hot water. As in the case of the tank supports at the TPP, permafrost thawed, as a result of which the piles collapsed. Independent experts asked for a month to make an opinion. The case turned out to be a lot of secret and still unknown to science. The chairman of the expert group, chief specialist of the Capital Construction Department, Ph.D. in engineering with a quarter of a century of experience in the Far North, immediately stated that of the 18 questions posed by the court, the examination will be able to definitely answer only two. And so it happened. Modern construction science has no answers to other questions. And so on. We then said so on the sidelines - we will judge concrete.
- But nevertheless people were condemned. Same as with the current leak - there were those who were put the blame on.
- The director of the restaurant and the master of the permafrost laboratory, responsible for the state of permafrost under the buildings on stilts, were accused. The directors were accused of negligence because they allowed water to leak, although the causal relationship between this leak and the collapse of the pile was still not clarified. Masters were accused of not detecting thawing on time.
There were no questions to the designers and builders. Experts have established full compliance of the project quality with the existing construction norms and specifications at that time and full compliance with construction standards.
Those Soviet norms for the construction of facilities under permafrost conditions, however, were already in doubt even then. And today, due to climate change, they are simply outdated.
For example, SNiP guaranteed the indestructibility of pile foundations for 25 years, or 50 cycles of temperature transition of the upper permafrost layer thawing in summer through zero degrees Celsius. It was meant that this crossing through zero is the most dangerous condition for piles.
- Surviving zero degrees for piles - does this mean so many percent collapse?
- Exactly. The pile consists of reinforcement and concrete. Destruction occurs when concrete turns into sand and crumbles freely, and the reinforcement is exposed and rust. During thawing, the pile gains moisture; during freezing, this moisture forms microcracks in concrete. 50 cycles of thawing in the spring and freezing in the fall do not destroy the pile, and then you need to check the strength of the pile and, if necessary, strengthen it. The construction of piles in those years was carried out on the basis that the permafrost thaws once a year and freezes once a year. But those studies already showed, and simple logic suggests that the transition through zero degrees in spring and autumn can occur several times. Thaw days are replaced by frost not twice a year. Recent research on the so-called capillary moisture, that is, water in the thinnest tubes - capillaries, tells us that the water in the capillary remains fluid even at temperatures below zero. Such water freezes only at a temperature of -33 degrees Celsius. And moisture in concrete is just capillary. It seeps into microscopic gaps in concrete. How many times during the winter this moisture goes from liquid to solid and destroys concrete, one can only guess. So the norm of 50 cycles of thawing and freezing does not occur in 25 years, but much faster. Even the rules and regulations that are carefully observed during the design, construction and operation of permafrost do not guarantee safety. Global warming multiplies these transitions through zero by several times.
- Why, then, back in the 70s, when they discovered miscalculations in the fact that 50 transitions through zero do not equal 25 years, were the facilities not even recognized as emergency?
- The conclusions, in fact, were made. After that accident in the industrial area, the condition of all pile foundations in Norilsk was examined, and this is a thousand objects! More than two hundred were declared emergency. Some were in such a formidable condition that they could not be repaired and were demolished. Very large funds were allocated for the repair of foundations, and even a separate unit for the repair of pile foundations was organized.
- 200 buildings out of 1000. That is, back in the 70s, every fifth building was declared damaged due to errors in SNiPs? How many of those Soviet sites are at stake today?
- Here is the same thousand in Norilsk and millions of buildings and structures throughout the North and in the Arctic.
And at the heart of all of them is a pile. What is a pile? A 40-meter concrete pencil resting against a rock below, and his body was frozen in permafrost. The permafrost leaves, the pile loses support and, like a match, breaks. You look, once and three neighboring houses were demolished, then once - and there is no whole street. When there is an understanding that the bearing capacity of piles the building can no longer hold, the building is demolished. Sometimes refrigerant is pumped under the building, and it holds the soil. All buildings on such land must be vigilantly monitored. There is a special service that monitors this.
- It turns out that they didn’t attend the Nornickel? Now they write that the department of caretakers - engineers who monitored the condition of piles and the foundation, was abolished.
- The recommendation to “treat” piles at the CHPP was issued in 2018 by the Gipronickel Research Institute. But I think that the plant annually orders a lot of such studies, and this recommendation was one of them. The line of repair facilities is constantly replenished, and the company has 10 billion a year for repair work, and 30 billion is needed. Set priorities.
- Do you have a rough idea of how many Soviet facilities in the North, in the Arctic need research today?
- These are millions of objects. Order this work to the best expert bureau - they will spend 300 million, they will count a year and give out only an approximate number.
- What today is a bigger threat to the pile objects in our cities - warming (frequent thaws) or the obsolescence?
- One is superimposed on the other. And wear is dangerous, and climate change. Permafrost has become mobile, thaws occur more often, permafrost zones are gradually turning into swamps.
- What's the solution? Strengthen field surveillance or demolish in order to avoid new disasters and human losses?
- In my opinion, it is necessary to strengthen supervision. A demolition order was received - demolition. And you need to check all the objects - not only those where fuel and lubricants are stored, but also production and construction, workshops, factories, and especially residential buildings, kindergartens, schools.
- Thank you for the conversation.