Mayor lays charges against Norilsk-Nickel on pollution-crime

Cecilie Hansen is mayor opf Sør-Varanger Municipality

KIRKENES: Russia’s metal-giant in Nikel is notoriously violating the maximum allowed limits for air quality on the Norwegian side of the border. Sør-Varanger Mayor Cecilie Hansen says enough is enough and files charges.


“The company totally ignores the fact that the smoke destroys the nature also on our side of the border,” says Cecilie Hansen, Mayor of Sør-Varanger, Norway’s only municipality with a border to Russia. 

Mayor Hansen says to BarentsObserver that she now want the municipal council to back the charges against Norilsk-Nickel. “If nothing else can stop the acid clouds of sulphur dioxide, we’ll take the company to court,” says Cecilie Hansen.

The mayor points to the Norwegian criminal code that provides for considering that the effects of the pollution that occurs on the Norwegian side of the border is equate with an action taken on Norwegian territory, and that the Norwegian police therefor can open investigation and prosecution even if the offender is Russian and the emissions takes place in Russia.

Due to the pollution from Nikel, some few kilometers from Russia’s northern border to Norway, Sør-Varanger municipality has the highest measured concentrations of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in all of Norway. Cecilie Hansen herself lives in the Pasvik valley, the area most seriously influenced by the cross-border pollution.

The smog from Nikel does not only bring sulphur dioxide across the border.

Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) measures the highest precipitation values for heavy metal in entire Norway in the Pasvik valley. Most worrying, trace metals in precipitation increased in the area over the last few years, reads a report published last autumn. The levels started to increase in 2004, for yet unknown reasons. Norilsk-Nickel doesn’t share any production data with Norwegian environmental authorities. 

“They only care about profit,” says Cecilie Hansen pointing to the fact that Norilsk-Nickel’s annual general meeting of shareholders two weeks ago decided to cash out 90 percent its net profit in dividends. The metal giant posted a $2,1 billion (€1,59 billion) net profit in 2012.

The pollution from Nikel has for 25 years been a torn in the good cooperation developed between Norway and Russia after the Cold War.

“Criminals should be taken to court and that is what we do today. Norilsk-Nickel violates Norwegian environmental law, and will have to face charges,” explains Cecile Hansen talking to BarentsObserver at her office at the town hall in Kirkenes. 

“It is my job as mayor to ensure the citizens good environment and good health conditions,” says Hansen listing numberless meetings between different ministries without results. 

“When nothing else give results, it is best to go through the legal system to end the pollution from Norilsk-Nickel.”