Russian government pledges to save Lake Baikal

Press release - 1 August, 2003
Greenpeace today cautiously welcomed a statement put forth by Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, stating that Lake Baikal, one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, needs to be protected from the impact of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill (BPPM) and stop producing pulp.

Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill (BPPM)

According to the Russian government's website, Kasyanov said that in order to maintain the delicate ecological balance of Lake Baikal it would be necessary "to stop pulp production, to separate the mill's industrial facilities from the town of Baikalsk, and to build up an independent waste water treatment for the town." (1)

"Greenpeace is very excited about Kasyanov's statement. But it remains to be seen whether this is a solid point of action or just a hollow promise," said Joost van Marrewijk of Greenpeace. "It looks like the long-lasting appeals of environmental activists to the authorities have finally succeeded. The dangerous chemical production on the shore of this unique lake will end and one of the major challenges of the UNESCO World Heritage Lake will be settled.

Greenpeace pointed out that Kasyanov's statement does not correspond with the latest official decision to completely stop the use of chlorine and to implement a 100% closed water loop system at the BPPM before 2006 with World Bank credit money.

Official decrees to stop pulp production at the BPPM have been ignored by the State itself, which owns almost half of the shares of the company, on three separate occasions. Basic Elements (BasEL), which is another major shareholder since last year and is one of the largest Russian holdings, is suspected of only being interested in the US$ 22,4 million credit from the World Bank.

The mill, that started producing in 1966, is almost completely outdated and located in a seismically active region. "Considering the Russian economical situation, Kasyanov's statement plus the complete stop of chlorine use and clear deadlines would be the best option for now," added van Marrewijk. "This way production and pollution will be reduced until the BPPM can completely be replaced by clean alternatives without destroying the local economy or Lake Baikal. What remains to be seen is what measures will be taken and when they will be put in place."

Notes: (1) see: http://www.government.ru/data/news_text.html?he_id=15&news_id=10905For background information, see:http://www.greenpeace.org/russia_en/campaigns/intro?campaign_id=153608http://www.savebaikal.org