Norilsk (Russian: Норильск, IPA: [nɐˈrʲilʲsk]) is an industrial city in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, located above the Arctic Circle, east of the Yenisei 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, Yakutsk, and Vorkuta are the only large cities in the continuous permafrost zone.


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.[8]

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, a 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).[9] 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 only takes place 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).[10]

In the early 1950s, another 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,[9] 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).[11] Fatalities were especially high during the war years of 1942–1944 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. Norilsk-Talknakh 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.[12]

Administrative and municipal status

Within the framework of administrative divisions, it is, together with the urban-type settlement of Snezhnogorsk, 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.[2]



There is a mosque in Norilsk. Built in 1998 belonging to the local Tatar community, it is considered to be the northernmost Muslim prayer house in the world.[13] There is also a Russian Orthodox cathedral, several Russian Orthodox churches and a Ukrainian Orthodox church.


The population of Norilsk is 175,365 (2010 Census)[3][14] after the fall of the USSR, its population went down 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.[15]

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

Geography, climate, and natural environment

Winters in Norilsk are cold, dark and long
Considerable snow can accumulate

Norilsk is the world's northernmost city with more than 100,000 inhabitants and the second-largest city (after Murmansk) inside the Arctic Circle. Norilsk, Yakutsk and Vorkuta are the only large cities in the continuous permafrost zone. It lies between Taymyrsky Dolgano-Nenetsky District to the north, and Turukhansky District to the south. Norilsk has an extremely harsh subarctic climate (Köppen Dfc), and 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, and the period when the sun does not rise, polar night, is from approximately 30 November to 13 January. 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) 17.6
Source #1: Weatherbase, except for the July record high
Source #2: July record high: Official website of Norilsk. В Норильске самый жаркий июль за всю историю метеонаблюдений (in Russian); The Siberian Times. Norilsk breaks records for Arctic heat in a new sign of changing weather patterns
Landscape near Norilsk


Nickel ore is smelted at the company's processing site at Norilsk. This smelting is directly responsible for severe pollution, that 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.[16] 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.[17]

The Blacksmith Institute once included Norilsk in its list of the ten most polluted places on Earth, citing 2007 emissions statistics. The institute estimated that nearly 500 tonnes each of copper and nickel oxides, as well as two million tonnes of sulfur dioxide are annually released into the air at the site.[18]

Russia's Federal State Statistics Service lists Norilsk as the most polluted city in Russia. In 2017, Norilsk produced 1.798 million tonnes of carbon pollutants—nearly six times more than the 304.6 thousand tonnes that was generated by Russia's second-most polluted city, Cherepovets. Norilsk, the report states, decontaminates almost half of its emissions.[19]

According to an April 2007 BBC News report,[20] 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.[21]

In 2017, Norilsk Nickel announced that it had invested $14 billion in a major development programme 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.[22] 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 programme also includes an upgrade of the Talnakh Concentrator to increase sulphur disposal to tailings and the construction of recycling units to extract sulphur dioxide from waste gases at Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant and Copper Plant.[23]

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 the incident that the sedimentary colouring was of no danger to people or wildlife. The smelting plant, the company said then, was in the process of being modernized.[24]

Norilsk-Talnakh nickel deposits

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.

The ore was formed when the erupting magma became saturated in sulfur, forming globules of pentlandite, chalcopyrite, and other sulfides. These sulfides were then "washed" by the continuing torrent of erupting magma, and upgraded their tenor with nickel, copper, platinum and palladium.[citation needed]

The current resource known for these mineralized intrusion exceeds 1.8 billion tons.[25] MMC Norilsk Nickel, headquartered in Moscow, is the principal mining operator in Norilsk-Talnakh. The ore is mined underground via several shafts, and a decline. The ore deposits are currently being extracted at more than 1,200 m (3,900 ft) below ground and drilled from the surface. Nickel production for 2008 amounted to 299.7 thousand metric tonnes. Copper production for 2008 amounted to 419 thousand metric tonnes.[citation needed]

The deposits are being explored by a Russian government-controlled company. The company is known to be using electromagnetic field geophysics, with loops on surface which are over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) on a side. They[who?] are conclusively able to image the conductive nickel ore at depths in excess of 1,800 m (5,900 ft).[citation needed]


MMC Norilsk Nickel, a mining company, is the principal employer in the Norilsk area.[26]

The city is served by Norilsk Alykel Airport and Norilsk Valek Airfield. 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.

For a while, the internet was only available via a slow satellite connection. However, a 957 km communications cable was being laid along the Yenisei River towards Krasnoyarsk, with the work finishing in 2017.[27]


Norilsk has a history museum and an art gallery,[28] the Norilsk Polar Drama Theater,[29] a zoo,[30] a cultural center,[31] a sports and entertainment complex and arena,[32] and many monuments and historical buildings.[33]

Blocky, somewhat modern light-colored building
Norilsk Polar Drama Theater 
Large concrete statute of Lenin
Lenin Monument in Norilsk 
Teal mosque with small gold dome
Nurd Kamal, the world's northernmost mosque 
Soviet-style bas-relief of a ripped shirtless worker
Monument to the city's builders in downtown Norilsk 
Norilsk Golgotha, a memorial to Gulag prisoners who labored at Norilsk 

Twin towns and sister cities

Norilsk is twinned with:

Notable people



  1. ^ a b c d e Law #10-4765
  2. ^ a b c Law #12-2697
  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. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  4. ^ Правительство Российской Федерации. Федеральный закон №107-ФЗ от 3 июня 2011 г. «Об исчислении времени», в ред. Федерального закона №271-ФЗ от 03 июля 2016 г. «О внесении изменений в Федеральный закон "Об исчислении времени"». Вступил в силу по истечении шестидесяти дней после дня официального опубликования (6 августа 2011 г.). Опубликован: "Российская газета", №120, 6 июня 2011 г. (Government of the Russian Federation. Federal Law #107-FZ of June 31, 2011 On Calculating Time, as amended by the Federal Law #271-FZ of July 03, 2016 On Amending Federal Law "On Calculating Time". Effective as of after sixty days following the day of the official publication.).
  5. ^ a b Michail V. Kozlov; Elena Zvereva; Vitali Zverev (28 July 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. 
  6. ^ Почта России. Информационно-вычислительный центр ОАСУ РПО. (Russian Post). Поиск объектов почтовой связи (Postal Objects Search) (in Russian)
  7. ^ "телефонных кодов" (in Russian). Retrieved 7 February 2016. 
  8. ^ "Life behind closed doors in the Arctic is.....fun!". 
  9. ^ 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)
  10. ^ "Northern Sea Route Information Office". Retrieved 8 February 2016. 
  11. ^ "Люди Норильлага" (in Russian). 
  12. ^ "Norilsk – Mining Hell" (PDF). Retrieved 8 February 2016. 
  13. ^ Paxton, Robin (2007-05-15). "Arctic mosque stays open but Muslim numbers shrink". Reuters. Retrieved 2015-02-28. 
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ Fiore, Victoria (November 8, 2017). "A Toxic, Closed-Off City on the Edge of the World". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-03-21. 
  16. ^ "Norilsk, Siberia". NASA. Retrieved 8 February 2016. 
  17. ^ Kramer, Andrew E. (July 12, 2007). "For One Business, Polluted Clouds Have Silvery Linings". The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2007. 
  18. ^ ":: WorstPolluted.org : Dynpages". www.worstpolluted.org. Retrieved 2018-01-29. 
  19. ^ "Каталог публикаций::Федеральная служба государственной статистики". www.gks.ru. Retrieved 2018-01-29. 
  20. ^ "Toxic truth of secretive Siberian city". BBC News. April 5, 2007. Retrieved September 14, 2007. 
  21. ^ "Norilsk Nickel's Potanin says his company should be an environmental example - Bellona.org". Bellona.org. 2016-12-21. Retrieved 2018-01-29. 
  22. ^ http://network.bellona.org/content/uploads/sites/2/2018/01/Nornickel-on-The-Kola-Peninsula.pdf
  23. ^ "Environmental impact – Environmental Protection – Strategic report – Nornickel Annual report 2016". ar2016.nornik.ru. Retrieved 2018-01-29. 
  24. ^ "Russia firm admits 'red river' spillage". BBC News. 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2018-01-29. 
  25. ^ "Mineral Reserves and Resources Statement". MMC Norilsk Nickel. November 3, 2008. 
  26. ^ "World's Worst Polluted Places 2007". The Blacksmith Institute. September 2007. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Russia's remotest Arctic tundra city gets fiber-optic internet". The Independent. September 28, 2017. Retrieved February 18, 2018. 
  28. ^ "Museums in Norilsk". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Norilsk Polar Drama Theater". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015. 
  30. ^ "Norilsk Zoos & Aquariums". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015. 
  31. ^ "Norilsk Town Cultural Center". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015. 
  32. ^ "Sport Entertainment Complex Arena". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015. 
  33. ^ "Norilsk Sights". Trip Advisor. Retrieved March 26, 2015. 
  34. ^ Waldemar Januszczak (January 20, 2008). "Darker than it looks". Times Online. London. Retrieved January 26, 2008. (Subscription required (help)). 


  • Законодательное собрание Красноярского края. Закон №10-4765 от 10 июня 2010 г. «О перечне административно-территориальных единиц и территориальных единиц Красноярского края», в ред. Закона №7-3007 от 16 декабря 2014 г. «Об изменении административно-территориального устройства Большеулуйского района и о внесении изменений в Закон края "О перечне административно-территориальных единиц и территориальных единиц Красноярского края"». Вступил в силу 1 июля 2010 г. Опубликован: "Ведомости высших органов государственной власти Красноярского края", №33(404), 5 июля 2010 г. (Legislative Assembly of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Law #10-4765 of June 10, 2010 On the Registry of the Administrative-Territorial Units and the Territorial Units of Krasnoyarsk Krai, as amended by the Law #7-3007 of December 16, 2014 On Changing the Administrative-Territorial Structure of Bolsheuluysky District and on Amending the Krai Law "On the Registry of the Administrative-Territorial Units and the Territorial Units of Krasnoyarsk Krai". Effective as of July 1, 2010.).
  • Законодательное собрание Красноярского края. Закон №12-2697 от 10 декабря 2004 г. «О наделении муниципального образования город Норильск статусом городского округа», в ред. Закона №5-1826 от 21 ноября 2013 г. «О внесении изменений в Законы края об установлении границ и наделении соответствующим статусом муниципальных образований Красноярского края». Вступил в силу через десять дней после официального опубликования. Опубликован: "Ведомости высших органов государственной власти Красноярского края", №34, 19 декабря 2004 г. (Legislative Assembly of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Law #12-2697 of December 10, 2004 On Granting Urban Okrug Status to the Municipal Formation of the City of Norilsk, as amended by the Law #5-1826 of November 21, 2013 On Amending the Krai Laws on Establishing the Borders and Granting an Appropriate Status to the Municipal Formations of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Effective as of the day ten days after the official publication.).
  • "Norilskaya golgofa"(in Russian) "Memorial", regional Branch "Siberia", publisher: "Klaretianum", Krasnoyarsk, 2002

External links