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The Korkinsky coal mine. The most ecologically dirty place in Russia.

Коркинский разрез
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /

Svetlana Radionova, the Head of Federal Supervisory Natural Resources Management Service (in Russian: Rosprirodnadzor), named the Korkinsky open-pit coal mine as one of the most heartbreaking examples of technological environmental impact in our country. How do the people actually live though, next to a non-stop fuming tunnel? Who and how will conduct the mine reclamation?

Over the 70 years that Korkinsky coal mine has been operating, it has produced over 250 million tons of coal and about 1.5 billion tons of waste rock. As a result, the open-cut mine has become the largest one in Eurasia and second largest globally - the mine’s depth is over 500 meters and its diameter is about 3.5 kilometres.

Would have the situation been different, perhaps residents of the nearby villages - Korkino and Roza - could be proud of those records. However, in reality, there is an ongoing process of chemical reactions taking place inside the mine, which is almost completely out of control. In particular, coal is being heated, and then the reaction with oxygen starts. Finally, the spontaneous combustion happens. Most importantly, these kinds of fires cannot be water-quenched, and their containment requires significant time and money costs.

Throughout this time, environmentalists have been informing of significant exceedance of maximum permissible concentrations of carbon monoxide and man-made dust in the air. Residents of the southern districts of Chelyabinsk have been also affected, since Korkino is located only ten kilometres away from the city. "Korkinsky coal mine is a huge deposit that no company could possibly reclaim on its own”, as mentioned by Svetlana Radionova, the Head of Rosprirodnadzor, in an interview to the Russian newspaper ”Izvestia”.

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Фото © tomgok.ru

She also reported that the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment of the Russian Federation is going through readings of a new legislation aimed at eliminating accumulated environmental damage. This new act should, in particular, impose an obligation on the landowners to restore the land destroyed while being exploited. The European practices will be taken as a basis. According to them, mining enterprises already at the very early stages of prospecting and exploration should be able to explain how they are going to turn a depleted mine into a green park once they have stopped operating.

The reconstruction of the Korkinsky open cut is performed by a joint enterprise Promrekultivatsia. The company is only involved in localising endogenous fires. However, the company's executives promise to have established a pond at the facility site by 2042, with the trees and bushes growing on the banks of the pond.

In order to liquidate the mine, the filling material will be used, which is to be made on the basis of tailings of Tominsky Processing Plant (in Russian: TGOK). The plant is now being built not far from the Korkinsky pit. The factory waste will be delivered through the pipeline and will serve as the basis for filling the lower part and strengthening the sides. Despite the promising prospects, the locals are not exactly in favour of the project. They fear that TGOK will not become a solution to the problem but rather the opposite - it will be no lesser problem than the Korkinsky mine itself.

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Фото © tomgok.ru

На фото: начало прокладки трубопровода для транспортирования в Коркинский разрез закладочного материала с Томинского ГОКа

The management of Russian Copper Company (RCC) holds an opposite opinion and assures that only the best available technologies will used in the construction of the plant. The appropriateness of their use will be monitored by independent experts, who will also monitor the Korkinsky mine’s reclamation process.

According to Yuri Smirnov, Associate Professor of the Department of Geoecology at the Mining University, ”The liquidation project of the Korkinsky mine is a unique large-scale project that has been designed at the highest engineering level. Its implementation will not only allow to solve local environmental problems but also form an entire scientific base that will be studied by researchers for at least the next 20 years”.

In 2018, RCC signed an agreement on cooperation with Saint-Petersburg Mining University. Within the framework of the agreement, the university’s researchers provided an independent expert evaluation of the TGOK’s project documentation, with allowance for a liquidating plan of the Korkinsky coal mine. Another scientist duties within the project include environmental soil, air and surface water monitoring both inside and outside of the open pit.

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Фото © tomgok.ru

The latest expedition to Chelyabinsk Oblast (region) took place in July. During the one-week lasting trip, the Mining University’s specialists and students were collecting the samples for a further analysis, which is to be carried out in a laboratory setting, as well as they were monitoring the fire situation.

As noted by Akeksandr Danilov, Senior Engineer at the Department of Geoecology at the Mining University, ”Over the past year, we have recorded a decrease in the emission level of contaminants, although the situation remains quite serious. Another one of our tasks was to study the movements of the sides and landslide developments”.

There is hardly any doubt that Russia needs a law to handle the issue of environmental damage compensation caused by the mining exploitation. It should be noted that without an integrated approach to this problem, without developing the mechanisms that allow to allocate funds for the further reclamation works, in the end there will be probably dozens, if not hundreds, of facilities similar to the Korkinsky mine, right along the country.