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"Norilsk, Russia" in Green Cities: An A-to-Z Guide

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Full Publication Date
May 4, 2010

With the discovery of massive deposits of nickel in the 1920s, slave labor camps to mine these reserves soon followed, and the city of Norilsk was born. Officially founded in 1935 as the Norilsk Combine, for decades the city was a key island in Stalin's industrial gulag archipelago. The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (or NKVD) was given responsibility for construction of Norilsk as a test of its ability to manage large projects that relied on prison labor. Today, with a population of approximately 135,000 people, Norilsk, which is located on the Taimyr Peninsula, is the world's second-largest city (after Murmansk) above the Arctic Circle.

Mining remains the primary industrial activity and source of employment in Norilsk, as the world's largest nickel deposits, almost all of Russia's platinum group metals (platinum, palladium, and rhodium), and half of the country's copper can be found within the city's environs. These reserves are exclusively controlled by the multinational firm Norilsk Nickel. Because of the decades of heavy metal mining and processing that took place at its outdated smelting plants, Norilsk has the dubious distinction of regularly being recognized as one of the world's most polluted cities

Megan Dixon
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
carbon footprint, environmental justice, heavy metal mining
Publication Type
Book Chapter
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation
Newell, Josh & Megan Dixon. (2010) “Norilsk, Russia” in Green Cities, ed. Nevin Cohen and Paul Robbins. SAGE Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA. 349-353.