* Nornickel says it paid $2 bln for environmental damage
* By far the biggest environmental fine in Russia
* Putin satisfied Nornickel is fulfilling its obligations (Writes through to add Putin’s comment)
MOSCOW, March 10 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that a $2 billion fine paid by metals miner Nornickel after a fuel spill, the country’s worst Arctic environmental disaster, will be used to improve ecology in the region.
The leak of 21,000 tonnes of diesel into rivers and subsoil from a storage tank at Nornickel’s power plant in Siberia last year had angered Putin.
“I ask you to ensure that this (payment) is used primarily to improve the environmental situation in (the Arctic city of) Norilsk itself and the surrounding region in the medium and long term,” Putin told a government meeting.
Nornickel was told to pay $2 billion in damages by a Russian court in February, and handed over the money having decided not to appeal the ruling, it said earlier on Wednesday.
“I think one can say with satisfaction that the company is fulfilling its obligations. We hope it will continue to do so,” Putin said.
Nornickel, which has long been criticised for sulphur dioxide emissions in the region, plans to spend $5.5 billion on environmental projects by 2030, including $600 million collecting Soviet-era waste.
The world’s biggest producer of palladium and a leading player in nickel set aside $2 billion to cover the potential fine months before the court ruling. Its 2020 net profit fell by 39% as a result.
The fuel spill was followed by a series of smaller incidents in the Arctic over the following ten months, raising criticism of Nornickel’s environmental and safety measures.
The company is currently trying to halt water flowing into its two main mines in the same area, and is fixing its processing plant after part of it collapsed during renovation work in February, killing three workers. (Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Alexander Smith and Kirsten Donovan)