Baikalsk Paper Mill
After decades of heavy pollution, the infamous Pulp and Paper Mill in Baikalsk, Russia is finally closed. Since it was constructed in 1966, the pulp and paper mill has been a flashpoint of controversy for the scientific and environmental community. The mill is located directly on the shore of Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake. Baikal holds 20% of the world's fresh water and is home to over 1600 endemic species of plants and animals, including the world's only freshwater seal. Lake Baikal is known for its water purity and its biodiversity, although the pulp and paper mill has impacted its southeastern shore. Experts say the plant's discharges have resulted in a more than 12 square mile (30 square kilometer) dead zone in the relatively shallow waters in the south.
Continental Management, which is owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, first closed the factory on October 2 to convert it to a closed-cycle system. The company, however, quickly realized that the mill would no longer be as lucrative and temporarily closed the mill. On March 13th, Continental Management announced that the plant would not restart operations for financial and technological reasons.
Baikal Environmental Wave has worked
for years to stress the need for alternative employment when shutdown
occurs. Lake Baikal provides enormous opportunities for small-scale
sustainable businesses. Unfortunately, neither Continental Management
nor the Russian government has followed through to provide alternative
employment. Baikal Environmental Wave continues to seek opportunities
to support sustainable, small-scale businesses around Lake Baikal. At
present Baikal Environmental Wave is working with the Baikalsk city
government and local activists on the city’s investment portfolio.
Marina Rikhvanova, Baikal Environmental Wave’s Co-Chair and a Goldman
Prize Winner, is using part of her Goldman Prize, to support
small-scale initiatives in Baikalsk such as eco-tourism, organic
gardening, and arts and crafts.
There had been a long standing public campaign against the mill because of pollution. Pacific Environment’s Russian partners, particularly led by Baikal Environmental Wave and Greenpeace-Russia, have worked for years to shut down the pulp mill. They have publicized the issue and brought it to the attention of the Russian Government and the World Heritage Committee at UNESCO. They worked with the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources to get the company to commit to a closed cycle at the pulp mill. Through the years, Russian and international organizations have organized protests, letter-writing campaigns, and various demonstrations to demand closure of the mill.
Although the mill is closed, the town is still facing a multitude of environmental and economic problems. First and foremost, the plant needs a comprehensive reclamation plan, which according to estimates, would cost around 4 billion rubles. If the plant’s industrial area is left untreated, the environmental damage to the Lake will be irreversible and much greater than the damage from the plant’s discharges. Secondly, Baikalsk needs investments to turn the mill into an environmentally friendly sustainable business, to develop tourism, and create other small businesses that would allow the town to prosper. Meanwhile, hundreds of Baikalsk residents are commuting for work or considering relocating to the nearest city of Irkutsk. Others are waiting for the better times to come relying on their gardens, chickens, and wild mushrooms and berries.