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Mikhail Dmitrievitch Prokhorov

Mikhail Dmitrievitch ProkhorovProkhorov

ENVIRONMENT
2012-10-10
A village against the cyanide plant
 

The inhabitants of Bingi, a small village in the Ural region, experienced a bad surprise. In their neighborhood, a cyanide plant is going to be built. The people in Bingi are standing up against this and demonstrating that the times where Russian authorities can do easily whatever they want without expecting resistance from the population are over. A report by Stefan Bernhardt

“It was just a perfect summer in Bingi again – the most beautiful village in the world!” But for Stefan Semken and some people in Bingi, the late summer became hotter than expected. The village with its 2,000 inhabitants is few kilometers away from Yekaterinburg. Only 800 meters from the community a cyanide plant is supposed to be built, which would be useing 100,000 tons of this toxic material per year at full capacity. It would be used for the local gold mine of Artel Neiva that currently employs 300 jobs inhabitants.

Although Stefan lives in Bingi with his wife, they only heard about it through a family member who lives in a different city and saw a report in TV. His first reaction was to go to the scene of action, and to look if there is actually construction going on. At the future building ground, there is already a small, simple administration building. At that moment, which was in the beginning of August, the mayor was still waiting for expert reports and permission from Moscow.

Cyanide, a ticking time bomb

In Germany, gold mining with cyanide is forbidden, as it is in nearly every state of the EU. The reason behind this is the massive environmental problems that are connected with releasing cyanide, which is dangerous to the life of humans and animals. What can happen became clear to the world in Romania in the year 2000. Through an accident, 130,000 cubic meters of cyanide-contaminated water flowed into near rivers, and flooded whole areas. Fish died, the soil was contaminated, later the first humans got sick – an enormous environmental catastrophe.

Using cyanide to extract gold is safe if everything is going well, and no accidents, mishaps or similar things happen. But those things happen, which is why safety cannot be taken seriously enough. Stefan got to the heart of the possibility of a catastrophe in Bingi:”…in the village, we all believe that it is guaranteed to happen. We don't even get a month of electricity without a blackout – how will they handle a cyanide plant?” Stefan´s biggest fear: they will dispose the cyanide waste in the forest. Gold mining is possible without using cyanide though, as he found out, this would not only be environmentally friendly but also cheaper with biomining. Instead of cyanide, it uses bacteria.

Is resistance useless?

In Bingi, not everyone vehemently refuses the plant, the opinion on that seems to be divided. However, some resist like Stefan and his wife. Their most difficult opponent seems not even to be the company directly, but the mayor who obviously does not take the concerns of the residents seriously. At town meetings, the concerned residents only got evasive answers.

Stefan is the one who has been involved in working against the cyanide plant: he organized awareness campaigns for the residents, petitions, town meetings, letters to those who are responsible and even a press conference with Itar-Tass, one the biggest Russian news agencies in Yekaterinburg. “Who doesn't resists, lives wrong! Old slogan from the 70s – maybe it'll do something here” said Stefan.

Is the pressure enough?

The end of the story remains open. At the moment, both the expert reports and the permission are not there yet. Some more allies could be useful for the protest. So far the local priest and a deputy of the city parliament have joined the local residents. The pressure on those responsible, such as the gold mine owner or mayor, needs to rise if the construction is to be prevented. So far, nothing has been decided yet.

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Picture: Stefan Semken / all rights reserved

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