Minister Says Baikal Plant Safer for Lake

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yury Trutnev said Monday that new technology at a Siberian pulp plant would "significantly" reduce its environmental impact on Lake Baikal.

In December, the ministry sued billionaire owner Oleg Deripaska's company Continental Management, demanding that the mill be shut down and pay a 4.2 billion ruble ($166 million) fine for polluting the lake.

Trutnev said he was satisfied by the introduction of a closed, internal drainage system that halts industrial waste into Baikal. "The safeguarding of the largest body of fresh water, 20 percent of world reserves, justifies any expense," he said in a statement.

Environmentalists, however, say the authorities may be shying away from tough action on the environment.

"If the government backs down on this issue, it will mean the same for its environmental policy in general," said Roman Vazhenkov, a Baikal expert with the Russian branch of Greenpeace.