Life during polar nights at -50 degrees

Author: Haris Hadžibaščaušević

Regarding the recently marked ecological dates, today we will say something about Norilsk, known as one of the most polluted cities in the world. Norilsk is located in the extreme north of Russia, above the Arctic Circle, in the Krasnoyarsk region, with about 178.000 residents. With its location, it is one of the northernmost populated areas on the planet, and together with Yakutsk it is the second city that lies on permafrost (soil whose temperature is constantly below 0° C). That might be the reason why there is a polar bear on the city flag.

Norilsk was named after the river Norilka, and was officially founded in 1935. after it was built on this site by Gulag prisoners, sent to forced labor. For a long time, the city was hidden from the rest of the world, but thanks to the Internet, Norilsk is showing itself to us more and more. It is impossible to reach Norilsk by road, but only by plane, ship or boat. Winters are very long, extremely cold, and summers are very short and mild. On average, from 250 to 270 days a year the city is covered with snow, while snowstorms last from 110 to 130 daysfrom 250 to 270 days a year the city is covered with snow, while snowstorms last from 110 to 130 days. Summer lasts on average three months, ie. from June to September. The polar night lasts from November to January, when the temperature drops to an incredible -50 ° C.

However, the prisoners were not sent here for no reason - the Norilsk area is known as one of the largest deposits of nickel, platinum and palladiumwhich is why the city houses a huge industrial complex owned by Norilsk Nickel, which creates so much pollution that within a radius of 30 km barely has greenery. And so, when on the one hand we look into the vast field under the pristine snow steppes, on the other hand, we see a powerful plant that releases huge amounts of sulfur dioxidewhich causes acid rain. The forests around the city are dead or dying. Once they start to grow, the trees are green, but they die in contact with acid rain.

The health of the inhabitants is very damaged, so the life expectancy is approximately 69 years. Given the difficulty of working in the mine and the consequences it has for the life of the miners, the workers have 90 days of vacation, while they retire at the age of 45. Severe respiratory diseases are common. Although they sacrifice their lives in such a cruel way, salaries are extremely high compared to other parts of Russia, which is not surprising why people still choose to stay here. However, there are many more who would like to leave the city and look for another place to live. Leaving Norilsk is a difficult task, because even if you sell an apartment or a house, it is not enough to move to another city, where the prices are higher.

The largest smelter with the symbolic name "Nada" is located in the city. Numerous metals are produced here, even precious ones, but the problem is the large amount of sulfur dioxide. According to the company, the total amount of sulfur dioxide produced by the entire plant is two million tons per year. The annual net profit is about 2 billion and it is estimated that there is enough stock for business for at least another 30 years. In the total GDP of Russia, the company's revenues participate with 3%.

Environmental organizations are skeptical about the promises made by Norilsk Nickel that they will work on technologies to reduce this pollution in the coming period. The reason for that is last year's spill of 21,000 tons of oil into the rivers, which happened in May, thus causing an ecological catastrophe, for which the company paid two billion dollars, and President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency. The reservoir near Norilsk is believed to have sunk due to the melting of the permafrost which weakened its carriers. The oil polluted the Ambarnaya River and the surrounding area, then Lake Pjasino, which flows into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean, thus forming a contaminated area of 350 square kilometers. Norilsk Nickel then announced that it plans to spend about 5.5 billion dollars on eco-projects by 2030.

But, despite the extremely low temperatures, harsh winters, and dangerous pollution, the residents of Norilsk are not giving up on living in this city. There is a flip side to this story as well. The city has cafes, a theater, various places for entertainment and social gatherings. In order to break the monotony of gray facades, some buildings are painted with strong, vivid colors. Every January, after almost two months of darkness, the inhabitants bathe in the lake and since then use every opportunity to enjoy the sun.

The water is drinkable, there is a brewery in the city, and all groceries are delivered by plane and boat. For example, cucumbers and tomatoes are delivered by plane, because they would not be able to withstand the transport for five to seven days by sea, as it is the same ammount of time for logistics. In addition to the Orthodox churches, there is the northernmost mosque in the world that belongs to the Tatar community.

Norilsk is often described as "the most depressing place" due to long and harsh winters and polar nights. Unfortunately, it is also an example of how much can man endanger the environment and himself for profit, as well as an example of man's incredible perseverance and desire to tame nature.

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