MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Volcanoes of Kamchatka - Renewed Efforts to Protect Russian World Heritage Site

Kamchatka is an ecologically and cultural rich peninsula the size of the State of California in the Russian Far East. It is the home of the "Volcanoes of Kamchatka" World Heritage site, made up of five major parks. It is also home to the region's largest surviving indigenous communities at Esso and Anavgai in the Bystrinsky Nature Park. Another benefit of Kamchatka's isolation is protection for populations of chum, sockeye, chinook, coho and pink salmon, which return by the millions to spawn in Kamchatka's rivers.

Sadly, these unique, world-class resources are at risk due to poorly controlled road building, mining, timber extraction and poaching. Efforts to contain or eliminate these risks are a major focus of Kamchatka-based groups including the Kamchatka League of Independent Experts (KLIE), and the Bystrinsky Nature Park staff. International non-governmental organizations such as Pacific Environment (PE) and Wild Salmon Center are also working with the Kamchatka groups to preserve this region.

Aginskoe gold mine

In the 1990s, many groups and individuals were involved in an effort to protect Kamchatka's natural heritage by challenging international financing of the then proposed Aginskoe cyanide-leach gold mine located upstream of the western portion of the Bystrinsky Nature Park, and upstream of the salmon-spawning reaches of the Icha River. Aginskoe had previously been denied International Financial Institution (IFI) funding due to its proximity to the World Heritage Site. But the project is moving forward again with almost the same cyanide-leach extraction plans as the original proposal, without the scrutiny of international funding organizations or attention of organizations that sought to protect the region in the 1990s. A Russian mining company - Kamgold, has acquired the mineral rights for the Aginskoe deposit. None of the scrutiny associated with this internationally funded version of the project is as yet focussed on the current development. A 120 kilometer road to the mine has been cut through pristine watersheds, and construction has begun on the mine and mill complex. The former project developer, Kinross Gold of Canada, reports that it has sold its interest in the 26 tons of gold estimated to be mined at Aginskoe to Kamgold for an undisclosed amount.

Concern about the environmental and social impacts of the Aginskoe project was a primary focus of a technical exchange conducted among KLIE, PE, and Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) in July 2004. This effort, including work in Petropavlosk - the capital of Kamchatka, Milkovo Rayon (county), and Bystrinnsky Rayon - identified a range of concerns about the current Aginskoe mine plan, and associated road building and mining projects.

Prior to the July exchange, Kamgold representatives had said that they would meet with KLIE, technical exchange participants, and Kamchatka-based Ministry for Natural Resources (MNR) officials at the MNR office in Petropavlosk to plan a site visit. When the meeting at MNR convened, no Kamgold representatives showed up. They called during the meeting to announce that it would not host KLIE staff and exchange participants at the mine site as senior staff was unavailable. Instead, they offered the exchange participants a chance to meet with Aginskoe project staff at their offices in Petropavlosk. The Kamgold staff in attendance at this meeting was not familiar with the either the tailings facility design and construction specifications, or reclamation plans and financial assurance commitments that the exchange participants sought to discuss. In addition, Kamgold also refused to participate in the public meeting in Bystrinski Rayon, requested in a letter from KLIE.

At the meeting at their Office, MNR officials agreed that KLIE staff and exchange participants could accompany MNR's hunting and fishing inspectors to their field sites that the recently constructed road to Aginskoe mine, and the nearby Shanuch cobalt-nickel mine, passed through. When the exchange participants and MNR hunting and fishing inspectors attempted to travel to the inspectors' field areas, they found that Kamgold had constructed a gate blocking the road. This road was supposedly a "public" road constructed as a forest access road in response to an application by a Khaborovsk consulting firm. The gate was locked and controlled by a Kamgold guard and DPS (road police) officer. Two more efforts were made to access the hunting and fishing territories that day, with assistance by the chief of the Milkovo Rayon fishery inspector staff and the Milkovo Rayon Deputy Procurator, each without success.

Reclamation Plans Needed

The primary goal of the exchange was to identify, review and evaluate reclamation and closure plans and financial guarantee to assure effective reclamation and closure at mines under-construction in Kamchatka. In Kamchatka, the key mines are the current Aginskoe project, the Shanuch cobalt-nickel deposit (including the road that connects them to the main Kamchatka road in Milkovo), and the Asachinski gold mine proposed in Southern Kamchatka. Effective reclamation and closure plans are of particular concern as they are necessary to demonstrate that:

  • operating companies have effective plans to address the potential releases following cessation of mining and milling activity;
  • operations have incorporated international standards and norms related to mine and mill closure, advanced beyond Soviet era mine closure practices of abandonment without reclamation and closure; and
  • operating companies have committed sufficient funds to accomplish full reclamation and closure and that reclamation funds, in the event that the company ceases to operate and its funds are not available for reclamation and closure.

Currently, none of the three mines have made their reclamation and closure plans or financial guarantee to assure effective reclamation and closure available for review and evaluation by either exchange participants, or appropriate regulatory officials at MNR. Exchange participants were able to ask about reclamation plans and financial assurance at their meeting with Kamgold staff. However the Kamgold staff were not familiar with the details of the reclamation and closure plans, or of the financial assurance mechanisms in place for the Aginskoe complex. Kamgold staff did acknowledge that its tailings facility is designed to hold only the amount of tailings currently proposed to be generated at the site. No information was presented or reviewed to indicate how the tailings facility could be expanded to provide capacity for any additional ore if discovered by current Kaamgold exploration work. Yet approval of the State Environmental Expertiza for Kamgold's Aginskoe mine was announced July 6, 2004, while the exchange group was in Petropavlosk.

TECHNICAL CHALLENGES

Technical exchange participants Pacific Environment, KLIE, and SRIC have identified a series of concerns about the Aginskoe project. These include:

  • Mine operators have shown an unwillingness to demonstrate compliance with regional environmental standards and to open the sites to independent observers.
  • Mine operators have demonstrated an unwillingness to apply international standards to mine and tailings facility design, failed to provide closure and reclamation plans, and failed to commit to financial guarantees to insure closure and reclamation
  • Construction of a road through previously inaccessible portions of the Bystrinsky Nature Park and Kriganik River watershed - a region proposed as a wild salmon reserve by the Kamchatka Geographic Institute, local government partners, KLIE and Wild Salmon Center - opens the region to increased timber, hunting and fishing

As a result, the exchange group identified the importance of early planning and preparation for a public environmental expertisa (plan) at the next available opportunity.

Based on conversations with KLIE, that opportunity may be available for the mining phases of the Shanuch deposit. Several phases of the project, including the road and the exploration and development (pre-mining), have completed State Environmental Expertizas, but the mining activity may not have as yet.

Editors note: Southwest Research and Information Center's Paul Robinson will be working in 2005 with Kamchatka-based groups and with Pacific Environment, continuing a collaboration with Russian NGOs begun in the mid-1990s. We will be reporting on this work in future issues of Voices from the Earth.


For additional information:

Kamchatka League of Independent Experts (KLIE)
www.klie.ru

Pacific Environment (PE)
www.pacificenvironment.org

Community Partners
and Resources


Table of Contents

". . . [I]t should be noted that the SEP [Springstead Estates Project] is, at best, in a conceptual stage and that it is totally speculative as to which, if any, aquifer would supply the SEP with water should the housing development ever be built."

— NRC Judge Thomas Moore
October 22, 2004

"Apparently the Government in Washington doesn't care about the health, safety and well-being of the 4,000 people who will be living in the Springstead community within five to ten years. This ruling is another example of how the NRC consistently ignores our communities' concerns about new uranium mining and why the Navajo Nation must step into this fight to protect our people."

— Johnny Livingston, President
Church Rock Chapter



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