Governor Calls for Pulp Plant on Lake Baikal to Be Moved

Irkutsk Governor Alexander Tishanin on Friday demanded the relocation of a pulp plant that is polluting Lake Baikal, which holds about one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water.

"Saving the lake is a task of global importance because high-quality drinking water is turning into a strategic resource," Tishanin said in a statement posted on his administration's web site. He suggested moving the plant elsewhere in the region at the government's expense.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika last month ordered regional investigators in Irkutsk to determine whether Baikalsk Paper and Pulp Mills, majority owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element holding company, is operating illegally by dumping industrial waste into Baikal.

The plant was built in the 1960s on the southern shore of Baikal, the world's oldest and deepest lake, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Environmentalists have been campaigning for its closure for the past 40 years.

"This is a ray of hope," said Jenny Sutton of the Irkutsk-based Baikal Wave environmental watchdog. "The main thing now is that these words become deeds," she said.

BasEl spokeswoman Oksana Gorlova said the mill had invested almost $13 million in technology to reduce the plant's influence on the environment.

"The company has always been environmentally responsible," Gorlova said. "From September, there will be no more discharges into Baikal."

The mill, in which BasEl has a 51 percent stake, with the government holding the remaining 49 percent, has pledged to activate a closed, internal drainage system by Sept. 15, eliminating the flow of waste water into the lake.

The government has offered to sell the mill to Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling for conversion into a water-bottling plant. The company said in February that it was considering the proposal.