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Experts: Arctic regions need support to settle infrastructure, housing problems

  • Published in Economy
Arctic ice.0
Experts say Russia’s Arctic regions need support from the federal authorities

Russia’s Arctic regions need support from the federal authorities in development of transport, housing, social infrastructures to avoid outflow of people, the Arctic region’s officials and experts told TASS.

Earlier, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the government would pay special attention to development of strategic regions, which have gained disproportions. Among such regions he named the Crimea, Sevastopol, the Kaliningrad Region, the Arctic zone, the North Caucasus and the Far East.

Transport infrastructures

According to the Nenets Autonomous Region’s Acting Head Alexander Tsybulsky, transport infrastructure projects are most important for the Arctic zone.

"For the Nenets Autonomous Region, which does not have any ground transportation to the country’s other regions, this question is most important," he said. "We are receiving federal support for construction of the road between Naryan-Mar and Usinsk - a most cost-intensive project for us, as it includes construction of a few bridges."

"A clear priority is development of the Northern Sea Route’s port infrastructure, which is extremely important," he added.

Speaker of the Arkhangelsk Region’s legislation Yekaterina Prokopyeva mentioned the Belkomur railway project, which is a unique transport corridor. The route between the White Sea, Komi and the Urals will connect the Urals with the year-round ports in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and Northern Europe.

President of the Union of Polar and Extreme North’s cities Igor Shpektor also stressed importance of the Belkomur route. "Belkomur’s construction must continue to offer an option to transport cargo towards the Arkhangelsk port, thus cutting expenses," he said. "As for the general transport system, it is important to settle the issue of the overpriced aviation services."

"If we look at prices to Pevek (in Chukotka - TASS) or Dudinka (the Krasnoyarsk Region - TASS), the prices are absolutely unreasonable," he added.

It is an absurd situation, he continued, where people have to take flights to Moscow in order to get to neighboring districts, when they travel from Chukotka, Magadan or Yakutsk. Flights within the country and the entire transport infrastructures require further development.

Special attention should be paid to roads in the Arctic regions, which now are in shameful conditions. "Arctic roads require very different construction approaches, replacing soils, as there is the permafrost there, and thus road construction is more expensive there, as in any road the key is not what asphalt or cement is used, the key is how drainage is made," he said.

The energy sector

Energy sources are another component in the Arctic’s development. Specialists say small-capacity nuclear power plants are most suitable there. The Dollezhal Energy Research Institute’s Deputy Director General Alexander Pimenov told an Arctic forum in Murmansk on September 27 that renewable energy sources are not effective in the Arctic.

"All the talks that solar and wind energy will save us are politically motivated," he said. "Those are unreliable, interrupting means of generation; and they cannot work for as long as we do not have accumulators of certain levels."

Development of Arctic projects and of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) requires power plants of different capacities. Those are plants for local energy supplies to local enterprises, plants of up to 100 MW and bigger regional hubs. "Already now, we should address power plants of new generations," the expert said. "Those could be transportable small power plants using gas, which may be working along entire NSR and in the Arctic Region."

Russian scientists have projects of different nuclear power plants, which may be on the ground, under the ground or on the water, and they produce energy at acceptable costs. "Nuclear energy does not have an alternative in the Arctic," the Kurchatov Institute’s representative Vladimir Makarov said. "We should use the experience of nuclear vessels."

According to Shpektor, an energy source should depend on economic factors - what industry will develop in the area and how many people will use the energy there. The Ministry of Energy jointly with the regions should estimate what capacities the Arctic needs.

Expensive utilities

Another sphere, on which the federal authorities should focus, is the utilities infrastructure. For example, in Komi’s Vorkuta, the local authorities and enterprises spend colossal money to pay for housing infrastructures, which had been planned for housing 250,000, while now the city’s population is about only 70,000.

According to Vorkuta’s Mayor Igor Guryev, federal authorities could help to solve another problem, connected with moving people from half-empty houses, as paying for them becomes too expensive for the local government. "Last year (2017), [Vorkuta] received from the federal budget 60 million rubles ($914,000) to solve the task, and this year - 55 million ($838,000)" the mayor said. "We are solving the problem gradually, but assistance from the federal center would be helpful. The city’s revenues are less than one billion, while the expenses are 3.5 billion ($53.3 million), where more than 2.5 billion come in subsidies from the republican budget."

Shpektor stressed upgrading the utilities infrastructures is a big problem for most Arctic areas, where as many as about 70% of networks are outdated.

The territory’s expanding and the development strategy

Speaker of the Arkhangelsk Region’s legislation Yekaterina Prokopyeva says it would be important if Russia includes the region’s several northern territories into the national Arctic zone. "Nowadays, it (Russia’s Arctic zone) unites the Maritime, Mezensky, Onezhsky districts, cities Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk and the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago, and the Pinezhsky and Leshukonsky districts could join the zone," she told TASS. "With support from the federal center we could improve the life there, develop infrastructures, including education, healthcare and culture, thus favoring new jobs and thus stopping the population from fleeing the areas."

The Komi Region also insists on adding a few districts to the Arctic zone to attract private and federal investments to develop infrastructures there.

According to an expert of the Arctic’s New World information project at the North-Eastern Federal University Vadim Kuzin, another direction is to organize strategic macro regions, including in the Arctic.

"As for Yakutia, its strategic development is in line with the development of both the Arctic and the Far East, as well as with still remaining important factor of raw materials," the expert said. "Plus, add the ecology factor and the factor of geopolitical security, the changing climate, as the Arctic is a region with the most quickly changing climate.".