The world is a beautiful place and it never fails to amaze us with its mesmerizing landscapes. But there are places on Earth that will send shivers down your spine, simply because they are dark and extremely unwelcoming. One of these places is a city called Norilsk, located in Russia. Let’s take a look inside the place that is considered the most depressing city in the world, and the land where water and snow can turn blood red.
Norilsk, founded in 1935, is home to almost 178,000 people and is a city located in the Krasnoyarsk Krai region of Russia. The city is 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle and 2,400 kilometers from the North Pole. Less than 100 years old, Norilsk is a land far removed from the main world, or so it seems. As far as connectivity is concerned, only one freight line enters and leaves the city. If you must take a waterway, the port town of Dudinka, 40 miles away, offers a route into town. However, the river is mostly frozen in winter, so this is a temporary route. The city faces ice and snow all year round, with an average of 9 degrees Celsius in summer and as low as -70 degrees in winter! During the seven months of winter here, the sun doesn’t even rise at all, which means it’s dark 24 hours a day. Yes, there are no roads that lead to the city and the access to the city is limited to foreign tourists.
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Avid visitors can also visit by air, which may not seem like an easy task. The city, which does not want to be found, is reached after a five-hour flight from Moscow, followed by a not so beautiful landscape based on a Soviet prison camp. Plus, the city didn’t enjoy the luxury of a real internet until 2017. Before that, they survived on a dodgy satellite link.
A brief history of Norilsk
It all started in the 1840s when Alexander von Middendorff’s expedition discovered the local coal deposits on this land, near the Putorana Mountains. Fast forward to the 1860s, the deposits were called Norilsk 1, hence the name. In 1936, the USSR built a large mining complex in the mountains using nearly 500,000 forced laborers. For nearly 20 years, workers worked in permafrost, which is not a suitable condition for work, resulting in the deaths of nearly 18,000 people in horrific conditions. NBC reports that the city has its origins as a resource colony by Soviet Gulag prisoners. Norilsk survived communism, embraced capitalism, and its companies are involved in selling metals needed for electric vehicle batteries and, ironically, the clean energy economy.
Today, Norilsk rests on the largest copper-nickel palladium deposits on the planet. In addition, a fifth of the world’s nickel comes from the city and more than half of the world’s palladium is used in car exhausts and jewellery. Today, almost everyone in the city is connected to this company, whether they work for Norlisk Nickel or another company. Although this provides jobs and a good source of income, it has not been very friendly to the environment. In 2016, Russian authorities ordered an investigation into a possible pipeline rupture after a river in the arctic nickel-producing city of Norilsk turned bright red. To give you a fair idea of how the city is drowned in toxins, it is the most polluted city in all of Russia and one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world. Factories release at least 2 million tons of toxic waste, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, phenols, and more.
Effect of toxins on Norilsk
Due to the toxic gases released by the mining plans, life expectancy and the environment are severely affected. It results in acid rain and the life expectancy is only 59 years, which is 10 years less than the Russian average. Moreover, the risk of cancer is also double that of any other city in Russia, reports The Sun. A health study found that rates of blood diseases in children are 44% higher in Norilsk compared to an average child in Siberia, while rates of nervous system diseases are 38% higher and diseases bone and muscle are 28% higher.
In 2016, a nearby river called the Daldykan River turned red due to alleged chemical waste. Although there was no official statement from anyone, many workers believed it was the result of the toxic waste. Also, on June 3, 2020, a river outside Norilsk turned red due to a massive diesel spill. A corroded tank burst and released 6.5 million gallons of diesel fuel into waters flowing into the Kara Sea. This is the largest oil spill in Arctic history.
Safe from U.S. sanctions during the Russo-Ukrainian War
Russian mining company MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC said in March that there was no significant impact on its palladium and nickel sales, despite the war in Ukraine which has severely affected platinum group metals and commodity markets more broadly. Nornickel is Russia’s leading palladium miner and accounts for about 40% of the world’s precious metal supply, making it an integral part of the platinum group metals supply chain, Market Watch reports. Both palladium and platinum are used by car manufacturers in catalysts, which are used to help combat greenhouse gas emissions in combustion engines. The company accounts for around 20% of the world’s production of high-grade nickel, which is vital for electric vehicle batteries and one of the causes of pollution in Norilsk.