Medvedev calls for investment to clean up Russian waste

DZERZHINSK, Russia, June 9 (Reuters) – President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday Russia needs new environmental laws and greater investment to halt industrial pollution and clean up over 30 billion tonnes of toxic waste countrywide.

To underscore his message, Medvedev met officials in the once-secret Soviet city of Dzerzhinsk, famed for producing chemical weapons and named “the most polluted small city in the world” by The Guinness Book of World Records.

“The elimination of the accumulated environmental damage is a large and difficult issue, which requires considerable investment, both state and private, and the introduction of new technologies to process and safely deposit the waste,” he said. The Kremlin chief criticised officials for not working fast enough to draft new legislation tackling ecological problems, saying their attitude was characteristic of a carelessness toward the environment widespread among Russians.

“This issue is not a priority to anyone in this country. This is a legacy of our previous (Soviet) approaches. We only tackle environmental problems in this country after all other problems have been solved,” Medvedev said.

“No matter what bills we adopt, they will not be efficient if they stumble across our traditional environmental thinking,” he said in the city, still named after the founder of the Soviet secret police Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Ahead of the meeting, Medvedev toured a chemical waste dump near the Soviet-era plant, built in 1939 and operated by Sibur-Neftekhim. Some 55 hectares across and built to hold four million tonnes of toxic waste, the dump is brimming over today, filled to over 90 percent capacity.

Natural Resources Minister Yury Turtnev said Russia would spend 3.2 billion roubles ($116 million) over the next three years to overcome consequences of pollution in its Arctic Franz Joseph Land and Wrangel island as well as the Dzhidinsky wolframite-molybdenum plant on the banks of the Lake Baikal, the world’s largest fresh water body in southern Siberia.

But the funds are only a fraction of what is needed to clean up over 194 critically polluted sites across Russia, Trutnev said. (Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; editing by Philippa Fletcher)