Problems of protecting the environment in Siberia

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  • Geoforum, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 105-111. 1984. Wl6~7185/#4$3 oO+U.oO Printed in Great Britain. Pergamon Press Ltd.

    Problems of Protect in Si

    ng the Environment 3eria

    V. V. VOROBYEV,* Irkutsk, U.S.S.R

    Abstract: Environmental protection is both very necessary and a very distinctive problem in regions like Siberia, where most land remains undeveloped but where vast natural resources exist. The essential challenge is one of devising methods of environmental protection that allow rational development of natural resources without destruction of the natural complex. To achieve harmonious relations between production, the natural environment and quality of life requires detailed knowledge, appropriate legislation and effective implementation and monitoring.

    We very often hear nowadays that the problems of environmental protection are not urgent in Siberia because most of the land there is undeveloped. But this is seriously wrong. The problems of environ- mental protection in Siberia have their own pecu- liarities and they are as urgent as those for densely populated areas of the U.S.S.R. According to the decisions of the 26th Congress of the CPSU, the role of Siberia in the national economy of our coun- try throughout the 1980s will be gradually increas- ing. The increment in oil recovery and gas and aluminium production, as well as the major increase in the products of power-intensive chemicals, wood, pulp and paper industries in the country, are to be achieved by bringing the resources of this region into the national economy. Development of the productive forces of Siberia is, in the first place, associated with the growing exploitation of its natu- ral resources. It evokes complex interrelations and interactions between productive forces, the living conditions of the population and the environment. Under such conditions, it is essential to foresee not only the economic results of the measures taken, but also their negative consequences (environmen- tal pollution, degradation of elements of biosphere and depletion of natural resources).

    *Director, Institute of Geography of Siberia and the Far East, Irkutsk, U.S.S.R.

    The problem of the Siberian resource management is closely related to the problem of environmental protection.

    Characteristic features of Siberia are: huge natural resources, their large-scale economic construction on the environment of this region.

    It is a view common both to many scientific studies and to popular books that Siberia has limitless pos- sibilities and inexhausible resources. Indeed, Siberia does possess rich natural resources. Here are concentrated the greater part of the free terri- tory and land resources, three-quarters of all forests, two-thirds of coal reserves, two-thirds of river runoff and the major part of estimated oil, gas and other resources. In comparison with the sparse population, one may well get the impression of inexhaustible resources. Such an opinion is wide- spread and influences decisions for projects and plans.

    It would be more correct to estimate the resources of Siberia from a nationwide viewpoint, rather than from a local one. They are the national reserve and one must estimate the resources of the Soviet Union as a whole, bearing in mind that their greater part lies in Siberia. Our natural resources are large, but they should be estimated in relative units rather than in absolute ones, i.e. per capita. From this viewpoint, for example, the forest area in the U.S.S.R. is 3 ha per capita, in Finland and Brazil


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    5 ha, and in Canada 20 ha. The annual river runoff (i.e. fresh water resources) averages 17000 rn3 per capita in the U.S.S.R. and 63000 m3 in South Amer- ica (i.e. 3.6 times greater). Similar situations exist for water power resources and some mineral reserves. These data do not allow us to be compla- cent. Already we must take account of resource limitation and depletion without excepting Siberia. Thus one must be extremely sparing of the resources and their utilization should be rational and economical.

    Complex national-economic programmes are being accomplished in Siberia within a short time period, vast regions with different natural conditions being developed practically simultaneously. Fulfilment of these plans greatly influences natural conditions. For example, 100,000,000 m3 of wood are cut annually in Siberia; an area of 4000-5000 km2 is cleared every year. Over the period up to 1990 the cleared area of forest in Siberia will equal the terri- tory of Belgium and Holland together. As a result, the natural state of the continent and even of the world will suffer greatly, to say nothing of the local environment. As another example, hydropower construction in Siberia is carried out on large scales. Nowadays the volume of water stored in the reser- voirs on Eastern Siberian rivers alone totals 360 km3. By comparison, the Sea of Azov contains only 300 km, yet it does influence the surrounding territory. The effect of the Siberian storage reser- voirs is far greater on temperature conditions, quantity of precipitation and air humidity. Growing industrial regions greatly influence the natural environment, changing its characteristics; this changed environment in turn affects human health and life, and via these factors affects the industry.

    Solutions to environmental protection problems in Siberia require good knowledge of the peculiarities of natural conditions in this region and the specific conditions in which people live and work in the vast Siberian areas. Natural conditions in Siberia on the whole are more severe than those of Western Europe and even the European part of the U.S.S.R. Nature in these regions is very susceptible and disrupted ecological systems recover slowly and with great difficulty. The cause of these peculiarities lies in the extreme conditions - heat deficiency, duration of winter, low winter temperatures, low rate of biological growth, widespread permafrost - which are reflected in all conditions of life. Siberia is characterized by a low degree of stability of natural systems in the face of anthropogenic effects, by

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    reduced ability to recuperate and by a low potential of natural purification of technogenic products from ecological systems.

    Air protection in Siberia raises serious problems as well. The climate and meteorological processes in regions of intensive industrial construction are major factors determining the level of air pollution in industrial wastes, with its damaging effects upon man and his environment. The degree of air pollu- tion depends on the rate of turbulent exchange, which depends, in turn, on such meteorological characteristics of the atmospheric boundary layer as wind speed and direction and thermal stratification.

    Siberia, with its sharply continental climate, is char- acterized by a relatively high recurrence of calms. Frequent occurrence of air temperature inversions is extremely unfavourable for pollutant dispersion in the atmosphere. In normal conditions the air temperature falls from lower to upper atmosphere layers (OS-0.7C/lOO m); however, in winter inver- sions the air temperature rises with height (2C 100 m). In winter in many regions inversions occur on 8590% of days. Because cold air stagnates on the floors of valleys, harmful emissions and smoke from industrial enterprises do not disperse in the atmosphere, but concentrate in the immediate sur- face layer.

    A combination of inversions with calms or with weak wind and fog is the most favourable condition for air pollution. Windless winter periods are typical of Siberia. Calm periods occur on 20-30% and weak winds on 50-70% of winter days. The average number of foggy days is comparatively small, but it may be considerable in some years, the fogs occur- ring mainly with weak winds or calms. Thus fre- quent recurrence of weather conditions (surface and upper inversions, calms and weak winds, fogs) that interfere with the dispersion of wastes from indust- rial enterprises and from other pollution sources is characteristic of extensive areas of Siberia. Com- bined occurrence of these phenomena (in winter during frequent recurrence of anticyclonic situa- tions and in summer at night) may sometimes create extremely unfavourable, near-stagnant conditions for dispersal. Such conditions are most common in relief depressions (basins, valleys), which are known to increase the frequency and intensity of inversions and to reduce wind velocity. Yet these river valleys and intermontane basins were tradi- tionally where human settlements, industrial enter- prises and transport centres were located in Siberia

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    in the past. Due to the increased significance of air protection problems, such an approach to industrial and population location should be reconsidered. It is evident that the lower parts of valleys should be recognized as unsuitable for locating residential complexes. The valley slopes are more favourable for these and should become the major sites for residence.

    A wide range of conservation measures are being undertaken in Siberia, together with the construc- tion or reconstruction of purification installations and work on improving their efficiency. The quality of air in many Siberian towns has recently been improved. Even so, there are still great problems ahead for the further protection of the atmosphere from pollution.

    Purification systems of industrial enterprises were and will be of great importance. Air pollution is known to be mainly dependent on industrial and transport activities, which are responsible for the major part of harmful emissions into the air. Parti- cularly heavy impact is made by ferrous and non- ferrous metallurgy, chemical and coal industries, thermal power stations, building-material plants and automobile transport. The improvement of technological processes for reducing harmful wastes, the perfection of purification works and the reduction of the toxicity of exhaust gases will all contribute to cleaner air in Siberian towns in the future. Siberia was always famous for its abundance of water resources, which in the past have been poorly utilized. In recent years a variety of indus- tries (chemical, pulp and paper, metallurgical, etc.) and new towns, consuming great amounts of water for technological and domestic purposes, have been developed here. As a result, the problems of water- resource protection and rational water use have become urgent.

    The problem of water-resource protection is com- plicated by some peculiar features. First of all, resources are unevenly distributed throughout Siberia. Despite the general abundance of water (Lake Baykal alone contains 23,000 km3 of water, amounting to 20% of the worlds fresh water resources), there are areas (e.g. the steppe regions of Western Siberia and Zabaykalye) with water deficiencies. Moreover, the Siberian rivers have an irregular runoff, with large annual fluctuations. Seventy-eight per cent of the total runoff comes in the summer period. Many big rivers have little flow in winter. For 7-8 months a year the rivers and


    lakes are covered with ice. The majority of small rivers and many middle-sized rivers are frozen through in winter. This raises difficulties in the water supply of many settlements. Water tempera- ture of rivers and lakes is low all the year round, which accounts for the comparatively poor develop- ment of organic life and the low capability for natu- ral purification.

    Anthropogenic influence on water reservoirs and resources constantly increases. Much effort has been made recently to reduce the hazardous con- sequences of this influence. Works on the improve- ment and introduction of new technologies, the application of recycling systems, the beneficial use of industrial wastes and the reductions of harmful effects on water reservoirs are being carried out. The intensification of the mining industry has a great influence on the water resources of Siberia (in the BAM zone in particular). Big mining centres based on large mineral deposits (copper, iron, gold, coal) are planned or under construction in the south of Yakutiya (Chulman), in the north of the Chita and Amur oblasts (Udokan and Gar, respectively) and in a number of other places. The building of industrial complexes will cause great changes in the natural environment; in particular, it will affect sur- face and ground waters. Possibilities of the deep burial of liquid industrial waste by means of filtra- tion are limited, due to the widespread permafrost. Thus the protection of the purity of the river system becomes very important. In some cases industrial enterprises make use of storage tanks for noxious effluent. It should be stressed, however, that in the widespread conditions of permafrost in the northern regions of Siberia the interaction of tanks with per- mafrost may cause degradation of the latter and, in the long run, pollution of ground water basins.

    Dredges are widely used in Siberia for mining placer deposits of gold, cassiterite and other metals. Such a mode of mining has an influence on river systems. The history of the gold industry indicates that in the past obsolete methods of gold mining by private prospectors often resulted in the pollution of rivers over a distance of 500-700 km (Timpton, Gilyuy). Construction of dredges on the rivers will undoubtedly affect the quality of surface waters and, probably, the most valuable kinds of Siberian fish (grayling, lenok, huchen). Construction of engineering works connected with living conditions will change the structure of the natural environment and introduce elements of cultural landscapes, which will obviously effect virgin nature and bring

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    about its gradual transformation. The directions and extent of the transformation of nature must be anticipated and forecast even at the initial stage of development.

    The 1980s face the task of installing systems at all operating enterprises of Siberia, with the aim of providing such effluent discharge conditions as would enable the water quality in rivers and other reservoirs subject to industrial discharges to be kept within the established sanitary standard. The par- ticular natural conditions of Siberia make it expe- dient to develop special sanitary standards for water in these regions and especially in the northern areas of the U.S.S.R.

    The more difficult conditions for natural cleansing of water necessitate the speediest measures for the changeover of industrial enterprises to a system of recycling and reuse of water, bearing in mind the future wide and rapid introduction of waste-free technologies. For these purposes studies are being carried out on the possibility of utilizing the wastes of pulp and paper plants as an effective fertilizer for many crops.

    In the forthcoming decade special attention will be paid to the problem of protecting the water of the unique Lake Baykal. In accordance with gov- ernmental decisions, it is planned to make the Baykal basin into a water protection zone. The project is intended to introduce a set of essential organizational and economic measures to limit the possibility of lake pollution.

    The recommendations of the scientific institutes of the Siberian Branch of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences will be carried out for the introduction at enterprises in the Baykal zone of a closed cycle of water supply, for centralized purification of all industrial waters from enterprises and domestic sewage and for the removal outside the Baykal basin of those enterprises which threaten the clean water of the lake.

    Great attention is also paid to measures for the preservation of ground waters, both fresh and mineralized, in Siberia, in view of their sensitivity to changes in the environment and ease of pollution. Mining enterprises have a great drying effect over areas which are 15-20 times as extensive as the areas of mining waste and pits, As a result, the population in these regions can be deprived of fresh

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    water reserves and simultaneously suffer drying out of agricultural land, etc.

    In the 1980s research studies on the planned south- ward transfers of part of the water of Siberian rivers to Central Asia and Kazakhstan will continue. Spe- cial procedures will be worked out for the quantita- tive calculation of the actual sharp fluctuation in river runoff for different months and seasons of the year, in the first place for the Ob. The project decisions must take into consideration such fluc- tuation and envisage corresponding protective mea- sures. A complex of studies is planned on the possi- bilities of forecasting the effects of these water transfers on the environment, with calculation of data on possible climatic changes at the beginning of the next century. The studies will also work out socio-economic development alternatives for the productive forces of Siberia from the standpoint of an effective water balance for this zone.

    The biological resources of Siberia are varied and unique in many respects. To evaluate them not only as a source of products, but primarily as ecological and social conditions for production and recreation of the population, it is essential that, when solving the problems of conservation and protection, regen- eration and management of fauna and flora resources, the biological resources should be tre- ated as natural resources of multiple significance that directly and actively participate in the biolo- gical cycle of natural elements, and as a genetic material of the greatest natural and historic import- ance to mankind.

    Hence the commercial exploitation of natural resources of the region should be undertaken taking into account the complexity of resource manage- ment, coordinating the interests of different bran- ches of the national economy and not discounting traditional forms of economy that are based on the use of biological resources: hunting, fur and deer farming, fishing, etc.

    The forest resources of Siberia are large but require careful attention. Their distribution over the area is extremely uneven. Alongside regions having exten- sive areas of productive forests with large-scale tim- ber reserves are regions without any forest or with sparse woodland which possess practically no com- mercial reserves of timber. In the severe conditions of Eastern Siberia and the Far East the forest vegetation regenerates slowly. Therefore in most regions of Siberia the construction of territorial

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    industrial complexes must be accompanied by the minimum clear felling and swamp drainage neces- sary. Clear forest felling for construction purposes and for agricultural crops must be undertaken on small plots in order to minimize damage to the natural complexes of the regions under develop- ment.

    The existing and planned norms, methods and scales for forest felling, distribution of timber bases, etc. should differ from those for the western regions of the U.S.S.R. In Siberia much more forest (not less than 35-50% of all forest areas) must be classi- fied as groups I and II, in which cutting is either forbidden or limited. This measure will help to maintain the ecological equilibrium in the given region, prevent serious negative consequences of mans economic activity, sustain the biological integrity of soils, prevent the occurrence of debris flows, floods, etc., ensure adequate quantities of air of good biological quality, conserve favourable hyd- rological and physical-chemical regimes of rivers, lakes and other water bodies and, finally, retain the overall water balance and water reserves. It is espe- cially important to preserve in this region all forests in the catchment basins, including prohibited zones along storage reservoirs and rivers, shelter belts, amenity forests, etc., and to extend the water pro- tection zones, limiting the making of roads for tim- ber transportation and forbidding totally their con- struction and timber dragging along the river beds, The rapid development of mining in Siberia has increased the importance of measures for land reclamation of the destroyed areas,

    The network of wildlife reserves of different types, representing all the variety of natural ecosystems, is growing considerably. The creation of natural parks (in the first place for Lake Baykal) has been started; in them recreation and tourism are organized in combination with scientific and educational func- tions and limited economic activities.

    As a result of the complex interrelations between production, the natural environment and the living conditions of the population, the problem of priori- ties becomes of primary importance. For a long time it has been solved in practice in such a way that preference was given to production, and matters of human occupation and environmental protection were considered to be secondary, and their interests not always being taken into account. It is high time the system of priorities in this field was changed. Preference should be given to the living conditions


    of the population and to the requirements of environmental protection before the conditions of production.

    An example of this new approach is seen in the solution to the problems of KATEK, the Kansk- Achinsk fuel and energy complex. According to the predictions of some design institutes, up to one billion tons of coal will be mined in the area of the Kansk-Achinsk energy supply system in future. This fuel might be used by a group of large thermal power plants with the total capacity of 70- 100,000,000 kW. Such a high concentration of a great number of coal mines and thermal power plants in a small area can obviously increase environmental pollution by industrial emissions to such an extent that living conditions will become considerably worse. Just one large state regional power plant, for example, can produce 1,200,OOO tons of ash and 200,000 tons of slag per year. This fact promotes decisions as to a certain limitation of the development of production on ecological grounds. In this respect the 26th Congress of the CPSU made an important decision to solve ques- tions of the production of synthetic liquid fuel from the Kansk-Achinsk coals. Moreover, studies will be made of other problems of coal utilization and con- version without its direct combustion by power plants.

    The decisions of the 26th Congress of the CPSU on the long-term development of our country up to 1990 emphasize the necessity of improving tech- nological processes for the reduction of harmful emissions into the atmosphere and for improved treatment of noxious contaminants in flue gases.

    A final goal is to overcome contradictions and to achieve harmonious interrelations between produc- tion, the natural environment and the living condi- tions of the population. For these aims, the follow- ing priority problems have first to be solved: (1) to forbid harmful discharges into the atmosphere or water (or to allow only minimum quantities). This is the problem of the widespread introduction of pro- duction without waste products; (2) to treat the wastes or to utilise them in other production; (3) to register all destruction and to make it known immediately, to allow constant and effective control of the state of the natural environment; and (4) to make a general forecast of man-induced changes in natural conditions. These goals are technological, regulatory and scientific, and can be achieved by the integration of all available forces.

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    The special features of developing the natural resources of Siberia sharply increase the role of geographical forecasts in the planning and imple- mentation of economic measures. The forecasts, if aimed at the minimization of damage to nature, will become an effective tool in solving the problems of the rational utilization of natural resources and environmental protection in Siberia. In developing schemes of complex management of natural resources and environmental protection, a series of research studies are required: (a) scientific analysis of those technological production processes in the territorial production complexes under develop- ment which are probable sources of mechanical, physical and chemical effects on the environment; (b) determination of stability in natural complexes in the face of different anthropogenic effects and the forecasting of man-induced changes in such complexes; (c) determination of the intensity of anthropogenic impacts on natural complexes under both present and future levels of development of productive forces; (d) regionalization of the area by the principles of succession and speed of develop- ment, with calculation of the maximum allowable loads per unit-area and with economic efficiency in the exploitation of territorial combinations of natu- ral conditions and resources; and (e) elaborations of a set of measures for restoring the potential of natural resources in the areas of future operation of territorial production complexes. In the decisions of the 26th Congress of the CPSU and the new Con- stitution of the U.S.S.R., special attention is paid to the problem of environmental protection and to the rational utilization of the natural resources of the country. In these documents it is put forward as the most important state problem. its resolution is sup- ported by laws on nature protection, on water and land resources, on forest protection and on the rational management of forest resources. There is a whole set of laws on the protection of the environ- ment that altogether form a sound basis for estab- lishing rational interrelations between the develop- ment of production, the environment and living conditions. Considerable financial resources are spent on their practical implementation. In 1976- 1980, for example, 11,000,000,000 rubles were spent on environmental protection. In 1981-1986 the expenditure will substantially increase. Imple- mentation of these laws is specially important for Siberia, where the intensive development of natural resources has promoted the problems of optimizing the relations between nature and economy into ones of key importance.

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    Research studies are of great importance for environmental protection in the regions of Siberia. The programme for multilateral development of Siberian resources, the Sibir programme, set up by the Siberian Branch of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, pays great attention to problems of ecol- ogy, rational management of natural resources and environmental protection. At present the prog- ramme contains a special block devoted to nature protection of Siberia. The efforts of twenty insti- tutes of the Academy of Sciences and over thirty research organizations and teaching institutes of different Ministries and Departments are concen- trated on this work. Moreover, each programme of development of one or another branch, say, Coal of the Kuzbass, Oil of Western Siberia or Non- ferrous metals of the Krasnoyarsk territory, is obliged to include the problems of environment protection. Finally, studies of the regions of Siberia and of territorial production complexes also envis- age the solution of similar problems.

    A particularly significant research development by Siberian scientists on this problem is a new method of information acquisition. To know what is to be undertaken first requires information. The conven- tional methods of data gathering on the state of the environment and processes of pollution are very labour-intensive, require much equipment, a great number of observations (and, hence, observers) and much time for data processing. Now there are laser devices which can take readings of atmospheric pollution, temperature, vapour content in the air, etc. These data are loaded into digital computers, programmed, processed and read-out in a ready form instantly. In practice we obtain ready- processed data simultaneously with the observa- tions. This fact immeasurably facilitates and speeds up information gathering.

    It will be extremely important to work out spatial, complex schemes for the protection of nature, as presaged by the resolution of the Central Commit- tee and the Supreme Soviet, On additional mea- sures for the strengthening of the protection of nature and for the improvement of natural resource management. Implementing these measures should prevent negative consequences of economic activity and should provide: (1) protection on the health of the population and improvement of its work and recreation conditions; (2) a decrease in losses of free and working time (caused by

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    unfavourable features of the environment; (3) an increase in the national-economic worth of natural resources (as a consequence of the rationalization of the complex management of non-renewable resources and the extended reproduction of renew- able ones); (4) a reduction in the intensity of wear- ing down the main productive assets; (5) a decrease of unfavourable consequences of spontaneous natu- ral phenomena; (6) an improvement in reliability of the reclamation and development of land; and (7) the preservation of genetic materials and standards of organic and inorganic nature.

    Nature protection schemes must be an obligatory part of the pre-plan documents, which specify the basis of the spatial organization of productive forces.

    In Siberia the question is not so much the conserva-


    tion of virgin nature, which is impossible and unnecessary (with the exception of reserves), but, rather, one of the methods of using its wealth rationally and without causing destruction of the natural complex.

    Environmental protection and rational nature man- agement are not purely scientific problems. This is public duty, in the solution of which in effect all branches of the national economy play a part. It can be solved by the integrated efforts of science and practice all over the country, including Siberia. In the long run our efforts are directed to the improve- ment in living conditions for the population as a result of the development of the economy and the land. Succeeding generations should see our land in a flourishing state both in the level of economic development and in the condition of the natural environment.


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