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Russian watchdog seeks $2 bln in damages from Nornickel over Arctic fuel spill

(Adds Nornickel comment, updates fall in shares)

MOSCOW, July 6 (Reuters) – Russia’s environmental watchdog has asked a power subsidiary of Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) to pay almost 148 billion roubles ($2 billion) in damages over an Arctic fuel spill in Siberia.

Rosprirodnadzor said in a statement on Monday that it had sent a request for “voluntary compensation” to the subsidiary, NTEK, after calculating the damage caused by the May 29 fuel spill.

Nornickel’s Moscow-listed shares fell by 5% after the watchdog’s statement.

Nornickel said it had not yet received the watchdog’s documents and would be able to comment on them only after it has studied them.

The spill followed a loss of pressure in a fuel tank, and 21,000 tonnes of diesel was released into rivers and subsoil near the city of Norilsk. Environmental pressure group Greenpeace has compared the incident to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

Rosprirodnadzor said the damages included the cost for nearby water bodies, estimated at 147.05 billion roubles, and for subsoil is, estimated at 738.62 million roubles.

“The amount of the damage to Arctic water resources is unprecedented. The sum corresponds to it,” Russia’s natural resources and environment minister, Dmitry Kobylkin, said in a separate statement.

“If one remembers the Exxon Valdez tanker accident off the coast of Alaska, the amount of the damage and charged fines (in that case) was over $5 billion,” the minister added.

($1 = 71.5459 roubles) (Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova and Polina Devitt; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Jan Harvey and Timothy Heritage)

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