Iceland provides hope to Russia's eastern frontier

Posted on 08 May 2001
Kamchatka, Russia: Beyond Siberia, bounded by the Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk lies the first part of Russia to see daylight: a 1,200-kilometre-long peninsula known as Kamchatka. With over 90 volcanoes and 200 hot springs, Kamchatka, like Iceland, has a chance to make the most of its natural energy.

According to a joint WWF-Iceland Nature Conservation Association report, Iceland could power up to 40 per cent of its cars and fishing vessels with hydrogen by 2020, and have a 100 per cent hydrogen based transport system within 35 years. The report states that the substitution of fossil fuels with natural energy sources is both technologically and economically feasible (see Story of the Day, 4 May 2001).

A similar energy programme for Kamchatka could save its vast areas of wilderness. The region�s status as a special military area during the Cold War and its small population has left large areas of land undeveloped. Notable species found on the peninsula include the world�s largest population of brown bears and greatest salmon spawning ground for ten different species.

But the area�s isolation has also meant there is little infrastructure and one of the greatest environmental threats to Kamchatka is the demand to solve its energy crisis.

The temperature can get to minus 10 degrees Celsius in this windswept peninsula and lack of energy makes life very harsh for its inhabitants. Up until now oil has been transported in tankers from Sakhalin. Delays in oil deliveries can mean days without heating.

Oil and gas could be developed along the coastline of Kamchatka but many are concerned about how this could affect the 70-80 per cent of the region�s earnings derived from fishing.

Viktor Nikiforov from WWF Russia Programme Office argues that in the absence of any real energy infrastructure, Kamchatka has the chance to use clean energy: �From our point of view, there�s a lot of hot spring water in Kamchatka, it�s a rich territory for this like Iceland. Reykjavik used to be quite a dirty city and now they use thermal water and it's quite clean.�

In the east there is a gas deposit and plans exist to build a 300-kilometre-long pipeline to the capital. �It will go through many salmon rivers and you know there are volcanic activities and quakes so there is a big risk,� says Nikiforov. �This project looks realistic but in reality there are big threats.�

But after two winters with fuel shortages people are looking for quick solutions to the energy crisis. The new administration wants to produce a nuclear station near Petropavlovsk and they support the project to build the gas pipeline.

Kamchatka could use an alternative model of development based on natural energy sources and, increasingly ecotourism, if it could develop the necessary infrastructure. It was once a Mecca for tourists from the rest of Russia because it was not expensive but now the flights are about US $600-700 from Moscow and facilities for tourists are scarce.

If such problems can be overcome Kamchatka can create sustainable development, insists Nikiforov: �We try to explain that the future of Kamchatka is not mining activities it is ecological tourism. A few years ago in Alaska they were getting about two and a half million tourists a year to visit their wilderness. Kamchatka is getting only two and a half thousand. In our opinion here is Kamchatka�s greatest potential.�

By Anouk Ride, Editorial Coordinator Living Planet magazine: