NAKHODKA, Russia (Reuters) – The far eastern Russian port of Nakhodka on the Sea of Japan is swathed in coal dust. It blankets the streets, clogs the air and is blamed by some for a rise in respiratory diseases among the city’s 150,000 residents.
Yet despite pledges this year by Russia President Vladimir Putin to tackle coal pollution in ports such as Nakhodka and Murmansk thousands of kilometers away near Finland, port workers and local officials don’t expect any change soon.
Once mainly an entry point for cars from Japan and an export route for Russian wood and fish, Nakhodka has switched in recent years to shipping almost nothing but coal from the vast mines in the Siberian region of Kemerovo, also known as Kuzbass.
Now, there are few other employment options for Nakhodka’s residents and in Kuzbass the region’s 3 million people have become ever more dependent on the far eastern ports and the export revenues coal generates.
“The coal is everywhere,” said Nakhodka resident who gave his name as Ivan. “I was a sailor in the port. In winter, there was a lot of coal, the water became black, the coal was on the snow, on the ice, the ships.”
Local officials say a rise in wood export duties first prompted wharfs to switch to coal and the business has picked up since thanks to a rise both in coal prices and demand from Asia. Shipments of coal to Asia accounted for more than half of Russia’s total coal exports last year and China’s imports of Russian coal rose 14 percent in October alone.
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