• The Financial District


The people of Ust’-Avam, an indigenous community in the Taimyr region of the Russian Arctic have demanded that Elon Musk stop securing nickel from a Russian company mining responsible for polluting waterways from which they secure tugunok fish, a major component of their diet, after the company’s diesel fuel tank burst in May and dumped 23,000 metric of oil that turned a river feeding Lake Pyasino red.

Gennady Shchukin, a member of the Dolgan ethnic group, said Norilsk Nickel, the Russian nickel mining company responsible for the spill, had belittled the spill and added the contamination is far more widespread than the company claims, and that his people will be living with the consequences for years, Maddie Stone wrote for Grist on September 21. 2020. “We expect that the river was poisoned for a long period,” Shchukin told Grist in Russian via a translator. “Maybe for several years there will be no fish in these rivers, and in the lake. This is very difficult, of course, for indigenous people.”

Last month, Aborigen Forum, a group of Russian indigenous activists and leaders that Shchukin heads, launched a campaign to raise awareness of Norilsk Nickel’s impacts on their communities and to demand restitution. Rather than focus on an obscure Arctic mining company, Aborigen Forum is appealing to someone more likely to grab international headlines: Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla. Norilsk Nickel, also known as Nornickel, is one of the largest nickel producers on Earth. It claims to be the largest producer of so-called class 1 or high-purity nickel, the type coveted by battery manufacturers. Demand for high-purity nickel is predicted to surge as the electric car market grows.

Nickel is a key ingredient in the cathodes of electric car batteries, allowing them to store more energy more cheaply. Tesla, and other EV makers, need lots of it. But Aborigen Forum wants Musk to commit that his company won’t buy any nickel that can be traced to Norilsk until the Russian megapolluter cleans up its act. “We don’t want the next industrial revolution of electric cars and clean energy developed for the price of indigenous peoples’ rights and traditional lands,” said Dmitry Berezhkov, a member of the Aborigen Forum network and the coordinator of a social media campaign to get Musk’s attention. “We think if Tesla could elaborate strategy and rules for itself in the field of human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights with regards to nickel, it could be a good opportunity to influence the general nickel market.”

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