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Putin orders officials to fully clean Arctic fuel spill area

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government Friday to fully repair environmental damage from a massive fuel leak in the Arctic. A power plant in the Siberian city of Norilsk leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the ecologically fragile region, the worst such accident in decades.

Putin said told top officials during a video conference call that “it's necessary to not just quickly clean up the mess, but to ensure high-quality recuperation of soil and waterways.” The leak occurred when a storage tank collapsed on May 29. Much of the spilled fuel fouled waterways in the Norilsk area, and there is concern it could affect wildlife or make its way into the Arctic Ocean.

Some of it has seeped into a lake, connected by a river to the Kara Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean, but local authorities hope to contain it there. Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev reported to Putin that cleanup teams have collected 103,000 cubic meters (3.6 million cubic feet) of polluted soil and 32,000 cubic meters (1.1 million cubic feet) of contaminated water. He said a pipeline would be built to pump the material to a disposal site.

Once that's done, work will continue to restore soil in the tundra and to repair damage to fish habitats and other resources in waterways, Zinichev said. “Obviously, the disaster has brought dire consequences for the environment and severely impacted biodiversity in water bodies,” Putin said. “It will take a lot of time to reclaim and restore the environment.”

The Russian leader labeled the fuel spill a national emergency earlier this month. He urged the government to tighten the oversight of industrial facilities in the Arctic to prevent future incidents.

The power plant is operated by a division of Norilsk Nickel, a mining company whose giant plants in the area have made Norilsk, 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northeast of Moscow, one of the world's most heavily polluted cities.

Putin emphasized that Norilsk Nickel must continue the cleanup work until the damage is completely eliminated. The company said it would pay the full cost of the cleanup.

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