Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday downplayed environmental concerns about a planned gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, saying it would be a "safe and reliable" energy link for Europe.
At a regional summit of Baltic Sea nations, Putin expressed surprise at the "emotional response" to the Nord Stream pipeline, which would carry 55 billion cubic meters (1.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas annually between Russia and Germany.
Environmentalists and some government officials worry that the construction could lead to toxins and weapons being stirred up from the seabed in one of the world's most polluted seas.
"It's serious. We are worried about the dioxins and other poisons on the seabed," Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip told reporters earlier Wednesday. "We expect our scientists to get full information about it all."
But Putin said the German-Russian joint venture had spent more than euro100 million ($135 million) on researching environmental impacts, making it the largest such study in the region.
"Some of the work was abstract and not practical, but we thought it would be better to be absolutely sure about the total absence of environmental risk," Putin said. "We believe the Nord Stream pipeline will be absolutely safe and reliable and a good supplier of natural gas to Europe and make our (area) more stable."
Nord Stream, which plans to start construction this spring, has approvals from Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Germany but is still awaiting a Finnish permit from local environmental agencies. Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said that decision was expected in "upcoming days" and hinted it would be positive.
"If there is an ecological risk, I wouldn't believe it would get permission from any country," Vanhanen said.
Some 400 experts and participants attended the Helsinki meeting, including presidents and government representatives from Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The area around the Baltic Sea is home to more than 90 million people.
The Baltic Sea has been subjected to decades of nutrient deposits, toxic dumping, oil spills, weapons and untreated sewage. Experts say it's particularly vulnerable to environmental changes because it has only a narrow outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.
Putin pledged to reduce sewage deposits, saying his country would build water treatment plants in the Baltic Sea port of Kaliningrad. Sweden's Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren pledged to double his country's contribution to the Baltic Sea Action Plan to euro9 million ($12 million).
Organizers said 150 commitments have been made by schools, non-governmental organizations, cities, private foundations, government departments and corporations. They include company funds for treatment of sewage, agricultural producers pledging to cut nutrient deposits, and colleges and schools promoting awareness of the maritime environment.
The chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, Jorma Ollila, said the company would provide expertise on oil spills, especially in winter conditions, and Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen said the city would allow cruise ships in the region to discharge their waste water into the Helsinki sewage system without charge.
Sampsa Vilhunen, spokesman for the Worldwide Fund for Nature in Finland, welcomed the pledges but added "they are not enough, nowhere near big enough."
Source: AP News