Norilsk Center, Leninsky Prospekt
Location of Norilsk
Location of Norilsk
Norilsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai)
Coordinates: 69°20′N 88°13′E / 69.333°N 88.217°E / 69.333; 88.217Coordinates: 69°20′N 88°13′E / 69.333°N 88.217°E / 69.333; 88.217
Federal subjectKrasnoyarsk Krai[1]
City status since1953[2]
90 m (300 ft)
 • Total175,365
 • Estimate 
179,554 (+2.4%)
 • Rank102nd in 2010
 • Subordinated tokrai city of Norilsk[1]
 • Capital ofkrai city of Norilsk[1]
 • Urban okrugNorilsk Urban Okrug[5]
 • Capital ofNorilsk Urban Okrug[5]
Time zoneUTC+7 (MSK+4 Edit this on Wikidata[6])
Postal code(s)[7]
Dialing code(s)+7 3919[8]
OKTMO ID04729000001

Norilsk (Russian: Нори́льск, IPA: [nɐˈrʲilʲsk], Norílʹsk) is a city in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, located above the Arctic Circle, east of the Yenisey River and south of the western Taymyr Peninsula. It has a permanent population of 175,000. With temporary inhabitants included, its population reaches 220,000.

It is the world's northernmost city with more than 100,000 inhabitants and the second-largest city (after Murmansk) inside the Arctic Circle. Norilsk and Yakutsk are the only large cities in the continuous permafrost zone.

The nickel deposits of Norilsk-Talnakh are the largest-known nickel-copper-palladium deposits in the world. The smelting of the nickel ore is directly responsible for severe pollution, which generally comes in the form of acid rain and smog. By some estimates, one percent of global sulfur dioxide (SO
) emissions come from Norilsk's nickel mines.[9]


Norilsk owes its name to its geographical location: the Norilsk river flows near the city (Norilka, Pyasina river basin), the city itself is located near the Norilsk mountains. Travelers Khariton Laptev, Alexander Fyodorovich Middendorf, and Fedor Bogdanovich Schmidt mention the river Norilsk and Norilsk mountains in their reports. The Norilskaya River got its former name, Norilka, probably at the time when Taymyr was inhabited by Russian fishing people in the 16th–17th centuries during the existence of the city Mangazeya. Probably, the name of the river comes from the word "norilo", a long thin pole, which stretched the string of set nets under the ice from hole to hole. According to another version, the name of the river (Norilka) and, accordingly, the city comes from the Evenk word "narus" or Yukagir language "nioril", which means "swamps". It is also possible from the name of the Evenk tribe "Nyurilians".[10]


Map of Norilsk (labeled as NORIL'SK) and surrounding region (AMS, 1964)
Map of Norilsk (labeled as NORIL'SK) and surrounding region (AMS, 1964)
False-color satellite image of Norilsk and the surrounding area (more information)
False-color satellite image of Norilsk and the surrounding area (more information)

Norilsk was founded at the end of the 1920s, but the official date of founding is traditionally 1935, when Norilsk was expanded as a settlement for the Norilsk mining-metallurgic complex and became the center of the Norillag system of Gulag labor camps. It was granted urban-type settlement status in 1939 and town status in 1953.[11]

Norilsk is located between the West Siberian Plain and Central Siberian Plateau at the foot of the 1,700-meter-high (5,600 ft) Putoran Mountains, on some of the largest nickel deposits on Earth. Consequently, mining and smelting ore are the major industries. Norilsk is the center of a region where nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum, palladium, and coal are mined. Mineral deposits in the Siberian Craton had been known for two centuries before Norilsk was founded, but mining began only in 1939, when the buried portions of the Norilsk-Talnakh intrusions were found beneath mountainous terrain.

Talnakh is the major mine/enrichment site now from where an enriched ore emulsion is pumped to Norilsk metallurgy plants.

To support the new city, the Norilsk railway to the port of Dudinka on the Yenisei River was established, first as a narrow-gauge line (winter 1935–36), later as 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in) Russian standard gauge line (completed in the early 1950s).[12] From Dudinka, enriched nickel and copper are transported to Murmansk by sea and, then, to the Monchegorsk enrichment and smelting plant on the Kola Peninsula, while more precious content goes up the river to Krasnoyarsk. This transportation takes place only during the summer. The port of Dudinka is closed and dismantled during spring's ice barrier floods of up to 20 meters (66 ft) in late May (a typical spring occurrence on all Siberian rivers).[13]

In the early 1950s, the Salekhard–Igarka Railway was under construction from the European coal city Vorkuta via the Salekhard/Ob River, and Norilsk got a spacious railway station built in the expectation of train service to Moscow,[12] but construction stopped after Joseph Stalin died.

According to the archives of Norillag, 16,806 prisoners died in Norilsk under the conditions of forced labor, starvation and intense cold during the existence of the camp (1935–1956).[14] Fatalities were especially high during World War II from 1942 to 1944 when food supplies were particularly scarce. Prisoners organized the non-violent Norilsk uprising in 1953. An unknown, yet significant number of prisoners continued to serve and die in the mines until around 1979.

A number of Finnish companies assisted in the construction and automation of Norilsk's No. 2 copper and nickel smelters (in the so-called Nadezhda complex), which led to bringing substantial numbers of Finnish metallurgical and automation experts and their families to Norilsk starting in 1978, creating a Finnish expat community of some hundreds of people for a couple of years.[15] Norilsk before and after that has remained a closed city.

Norilsk-Talnakh continues to be a dangerous mine to work in. According to the mining company, there were 2.4 accidents per thousand workers in 2005. In 2017, Norilsk Nickel claimed that it had reduced its overall lost time injury frequency rate by almost 60% since 2013.[16]

In June 2020, 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled from the tank of an NTEK power plant.

Administrative and municipal status

Within the framework of administrative divisions, it is, together with the urban-type settlement of Snezhnogorsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai, incorporated as the krai city of Norilsk—an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts.[1] As a municipal division, the krai city of Norilsk is incorporated as Norilsk Urban Okrug.[5]


The city is unusual in that gas and water pipes that are usually underground are overground.[17]

The buildings are in a socialist realist style with residential areas consisting of tower blocks.[17]

Large parts of the city, including Norilsk's main square, were designed by architects from Leningrad, causing parts of the city to resemble small copies of Leningrad.[17]



The population of Norilsk is 175,365 (2010 Census).[3][18] After the fall of the USSR the population dropped by 40,000, but this was offset by the subsequent merger of the towns of Kayerkan and Talnakh into Norilsk, maintaining a permanent population of 175,000. Including temporary residents, the population reaches 220,000 people.

Life expectancy for local residents is about ten years less than average Russian life expectancy,[19] which as of 2013 was around 69 years.[20]

Population history
1939 1959 1962 1967 1970 1973 1976 1979
14,000 118,000 117,000 129,000 135,000 150,000 167,000 180,400
1982 1989 1992 1998 2002 2005 2010 2020
183,000 174,673 165,400 151,200 134,832 131,900 175,365 181,830

There are 77 recognized ethnic groups in Norilsk as of 2010.[21]

Ethnicity Population Percentage
Russians 129,545 73.9%
Ukrainians 9,165 5.2%
Azerbaijanis 5,371 3.1%
Tatars 2,972 1.7%
Chuvashs 1,211 0.7%
Bashkirs 1,155 0.7%
Belarusians 1,133 0.6%
Others or undeclared 24,813 14.1%


Nord Kamal Mosque is the world's northernmost mosque.[22]
Nord Kamal Mosque is the world's northernmost mosque.[22]

Orthodox Christianity is the main religion in Norilsk. There is a Russian Orthodox cathedral, several Russian Orthodox churches and a Ukrainian Orthodox church. There is a mosque in Norilsk. Built in 1998 and belonging to the local Tatar community, it is considered to be the northernmost Muslim prayer house in the world.[23]

Geography and natural environment

Winters in Norilsk are long, cold, dark, and very snowy
Winters in Norilsk are long, cold, dark, and very snowy

Norilsk is one of the world's most northerly settlements and is the largest city built on permafrost inside the Arctic Circle.[24]


Despite being located inside the Arctic Circle, Norilsk has a subarctic climate (Köppen climate classification Dfc) with very long, severely cold winters and very short, mild summers. It is covered with snow for about 250–270 days a year, with snow storms for about 110–130 days. The midnight sun is above the horizon from 21 May to 24 July (65 days), and the period when the sun does not rise, polar night, is from approximately 30 November to 13 January (45 days). Temperatures can sometimes rise above 25 °C (77 °F) in July. Much of the surrounding areas are naturally treeless tundra. Only a few trees exist in Norilsk.

Climate data for Norilsk
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) −3.0
Average high °C (°F) −23.6
Daily mean °C (°F) −26.9
Average low °C (°F) −30.7
Record low °C (°F) −53.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 24
Average precipitation days 11.7 10.9 14.0 13.9 15.7 14.0 13.4 15.9 16.3 18.5 13.7 13.6 171.6
Mean daily sunshine hours 0 1 5 8 8 8 10 6 3 2 0 0 4
Average ultraviolet index 0 0 1 2 3 3 4 3 1 0 0 0 1
Source: Weatherbase [25] MeteoBlue [26] Weather Atlas [27]

Norilsk-Talnakh nickel deposits

Rich platinum-copper ore, Oktyabersky Mine, Norilsk. Click image for details.
Rich platinum-copper ore, Oktyabersky Mine, Norilsk. Click image for details.

The nickel deposits of Norilsk-Talnakh are the largest-known nickel-copper-palladium deposits in the world. The deposit was formed 250 million years ago during the eruption of the Siberian Traps igneous province (STIP). The STIP erupted over one million cubic kilometers of lava, a large portion of it through a series of flat-lying lava conduits below Norilsk and the Talnakh Mountains.[28]

The current resource known for these mineralized intrusion exceeds 1.8 billion tons.[29]


Nickel ore is smelted at the company's processing site at Norilsk. This smelting is directly responsible for severe pollution, which generally comes in the form of acid rain and smog. By some estimates, one percent of global sulfur dioxide emission comes from Norilsk's nickel mines.[9] Heavy metal pollution near Norilsk is so severe that it has now become economically feasible to mine surface soil, as the soil has acquired such high concentrations of platinum and palladium.[30]

The Blacksmith Institute has included Norilsk in its list of the ten most polluted places on Earth. The list cites air pollution by particulates, including radioisotopes strontium-90, and caesium-137; the metals nickel, copper, cobalt, and lead; selenium; and by gases (such as nitrogen and carbon oxides, sulfur dioxide, phenols and hydrogen sulfide). The Institute estimates four million tons of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc are released into the air every year.[31]

Russia's Federal State Statistics Service lists Norilsk as the most polluted city in Russia. In 2017, Norilsk produced 1.798 million tons of carbon pollutants—nearly six times more than the 304.6 thousand tons that was generated by Russia's second-most polluted city, Cherepovets. Norilsk, the report states, decontaminates almost half of its emissions.[32]

According to an April 2007 BBC News report,[33] Norilsk Nickel accepted personal responsibility for what had happened to the forests, and insisted that the company was implementing measures to reduce pollution. In 2016, company chairman Vladimir Potanin admitted that its biggest problem was environmental.[34]

In 2017, Norilsk Nickel announced that it had invested $14 billion in a major development program aimed at reducing sulfur dioxide emissions in Norilsk by 75% by 2023, compared to 2015 as a base year. One of the bigger steps taken to combat pollution was the closure of Nornickel's old smelter in Norilsk, the main source of SO2 emissions within the city boundaries since 1942.[35]

Norilsk Nickel has stated that the total emissions of its Russian operations was 6% lower in 2016 than in 2015, primarily due to the shutdown of the smelter. The company's environmental program also includes an upgrade of the Talnakh Concentrator, to increase sulfur disposal to tailings, and the construction of recycling units to extract sulfur dioxide from waste gases at Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant and Copper Plant.[36]

In September 2016, images surfaced on social media of the nearby Daldykan River, which had turned red. Russia's Environment Ministry issued a statement claiming that preliminary evidence pointed towards Nornickel-owned wastewater pipes from a nearby smelting plant as the source of the contamination. The company referred to intense rainfall and insisted that the incident of sedimentary coloring was of no danger to people or wildlife. The smelting plant, the company said then, was in the process of being modernized.[37]

President Putin chairing a meeting about the fuel spill on 3 June 2020[38]
President Putin chairing a meeting about the fuel spill on 3 June 2020[38]

May 2020 diesel spill

Main article: Norilsk oil spill

On 29 May 2020 a fuel reservoir, owned by Nornickel subsidiary, NTEK, collapsed, flooding the nearby Ambarnaya River with 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel. Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, declared a state of emergency.[39] The fuel was a reserve used as a backup for the main gas supply to a power plant.[40] The storage tank was built on permafrost which, according to a statement by the company, could possibly have melted and become unstable due to climate change. An area of 350 square kilometres (135 square miles) has been contaminated and it will be difficult to clean this because there are no roads and the river is too shallow for boats and barges. Oleg Mitvol estimates that the clean-up will cost about 100 billion roubles (US$1.5 billion) and take 5–10 years.[41]


MMC Norilsk Nickel, a mining company, is the principal employer in the Norilsk area.[42]

The city is served by Alykel Airport and Valek Airport. There is a freight-only railway, the Norilsk railway between Norilsk and the port of Dudinka. There is a road network around Norilsk (such as the A-382 which links to Dudinka and Norilsk Alykel Airport), but no road or railway to the rest of Russia. In essence, Norilsk and Dudinka function like an island. Freight transport is by boat on the Arctic Ocean or on the Yenisei River.[43]

Since 2017, internet connection speeds have improved due to the installation of a 957 km (595 mi) communications cable laid along the Yenisei River toward Krasnoyarsk.[44]


Norilsk has a history museum and an art gallery,[45] the Norilsk Polar Drama Theater,[46] a cultural center,[47] a sports and entertainment complex,[48] and many monuments and historical buildings.[49]

Notable people

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e Law #10-4765
  2. ^ a b Michail V. Kozlov; Elena Zvereva; Vitali Zverev (July 28, 2009). Impacts of Point Polluters on Terrestrial Biota: Comparative analysis of 18 contaminated areas. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 63. ISBN 978-90-481-2467-1.
  3. ^ a b Russian Federal State Statistics Service (2011). Всероссийская перепись населения 2010 года. Том 1 [2010 All-Russian Population Census, vol. 1]. Всероссийская перепись населения 2010 года [2010 All-Russia Population Census] (in Russian). Federal State Statistics Service.
  4. ^ "26. Численность постоянного населения Российской Федерации по муниципальным образованиям на 1 января 2018 года". Federal State Statistics Service. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Law #12-2697
  6. ^ "Об исчислении времени". Официальный интернет-портал правовой информации (in Russian). June 3, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  7. ^ Почта России. Информационно-вычислительный центр ОАСУ РПО. (Russian Post). Поиск объектов почтовой связи (Postal Objects Search) (in Russian)
  8. ^ телефонных кодов (in Russian). Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Norilsk, Siberia". NASA. November 30, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  10. ^ "Norilsk resident, # 8 (67) 03.03.05" (in Russian). Archived from the original on April 23, 2005. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  11. ^ "Life behind closed doors in the Arctic!".
  12. ^ a b По рельсам истории Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine(in Russian) ("Rolling on the rails of history"), Zapolyarnaya Pravda, No. 109 (July 28, 2007)
  13. ^ "Northern Sea Route Information Office". Archived from the original on February 15, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  14. ^ Люди Норильлага (in Russian).
  15. ^ Minerals Yearbook 1978–79 Volume III Area Reports: International, United States Department of Mines, page 985, 1979.
  16. ^ "Norilsk – Mining Hell" (PDF). Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  17. ^ a b c Noizz (December 11, 2021), Mróz, wieczna ciemność i czarny śnieg. Żeby wjechać do miasta, trzeba zgody FSB (in Polish),
  18. ^ The large population increase between the 2002 and the 2010 Censuses is due to the merger of the towns of Kayerkan and Talnakh into Norilsk in December 2004
  19. ^ Fiore, Victoria (November 8, 2017). "A Toxic, Closed-Off City on the Edge of the World". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  20. ^ Walsh, Bryan (November 4, 2013). "See the world's 10 most polluted places (and learn how they got that way...)". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  21. ^ "Национальность - норильчане" (in Russian). June 29, 2020. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  22. ^ "Arctic mosque stays open but Muslim numbers shrink". Reuters. April 15, 2007.
  23. ^ Paxton, Robin (May 15, 2007). "Arctic mosque stays open but Muslim numbers shrink". Reuters. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
  24. ^ Nikolay I. Shiklomanov; Marlene Laruelle (October 30, 2017), "A truly Arctic city: an introduction to the special issue on the city of Norilsk, Russia", Polar Geography, 40 (4): 251–256, doi:10.1080/1088937X.2017.1387823, S2CID 135434266
  25. ^ "Noril'sk climate". Weatherbase. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  26. ^ "Climate Noril'sk". MeteoBlue. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  27. ^ "Norilsk, Russia - Monthly weather forecast and Climate data". Weather Atlas. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  28. ^ John V. Walther (2014), "Nickel", Earth's Natural Resources, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, p. 165, ISBN 9781449632342
  29. ^ "Mineral Reserves and Resources Statement". MMC Norilsk Nickel. November 3, 2008.
  30. ^ Kramer, Andrew E. (July 12, 2007). "For One Business, Polluted Clouds Have Silvery Linings". The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  31. ^ "10 Places in Most Need of an Environmental Cleanup". October 14, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  32. ^ "Каталог публикаций::Федеральная служба государственной статистики". Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  33. ^ "Toxic truth of secretive Siberian city". BBC News. April 5, 2007. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  34. ^ "Norilsk Nickel's Potanin says his company should be an environmental example -". December 21, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  35. ^ "Nornickel on the Kola Peninsula" (PDF). 2018. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  36. ^ "Environmental impact – Environmental Protection – Strategic report – Nornickel Annual report 2016". Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  37. ^ "Russia firm admits 'red river' spillage". BBC News. September 12, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  38. ^ Meeting on cleaning up diesel fuel leak in Krasnoyarsk Territory, Kremlin, June 3, 2020
  39. ^ "Putin orders state of emergency after huge fuel spill inside Arctic Circle". The Guardian. June 3, 2020. Retrieved June 4, 2020.
  40. ^ Skarbo, Svetlana (June 2, 2020). "State of emergency in Norilsk after 20,000 tons of diesel leaks into Arctic river system". The Siberian Times.
  41. ^ "Russia's Putin declares state of emergency after Arctic Circle oil spill". BBC News. June 4, 2020.
  42. ^ "World's Worst Polluted Places 2007". The Blacksmith Institute. September 2007. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
  43. ^ Andrew Higgins (December 3, 2017), "The Lure of a Better Life, Amid Cold and Darkness", New York Times
  44. ^ "Russia's remotest Arctic tundra city gets fiber-optic internet". The Independent. September 28, 2017. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  45. ^ "Museums in Norilsk". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  46. ^ "Norilsk Polar Drama Theater". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  47. ^ "Norilsk Town Cultural Center". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  48. ^ "Sport Entertainment Complex Arena". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  49. ^ "Norilsk Sights". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  50. ^ Waldemar Januszczak (January 20, 2008). "Darker than it looks". Times Online. London. Retrieved January 26, 2008.
  51. ^ Vladimir Bure.
  52. ^ "The Father Walter Ciszek Prayer League".
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