The Russian whistleblower risking it all to expose the scale of an Arctic oil spill catastrophe

Updated 2:47 PM ET, Fri July 10, 2020

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Norilsk, Russia (CNN)Vasily Ryabinin stands on the banks of the River Daldykan and pushes a long stick into the blood-orange sludge. Raising the stick, he puts a lighter to it and it ignites it like a torch.

"Still burns really well," Ryabinin says. "It's very likely that these puddles are stretching all over the river and will be polluting it for a very long time."
We were a few kilometers from the Siberian city of Norilsk, where six weeks ago a huge fuel tank at a power plant ruptured, spilling thousands of tons of diesel into the river.
The owner of the plant, the Nornickel metals giant, says the spill was quickly contained, and the damage limited. Ryabinin has sacrificed his job and his family's future in Norilsk in an attempt to lift the lid on what environmentalists have called the worst ecological catastrophe in the polar Arctic.
It was 2 a.m. in the Arctic summer. A half-light illuminated the fast-moving river as it flowed through the endless tundra towards the Arctic ocean. A rainbow film of oil covered the surface; a pool of diesel squelched beneath our feet.
Ryabinin brought us there by foot along railroad tracks. Ever since the spill, the areas surrounding the site have been guarded by security personnel, making them difficult to access.
    He is a rare creature in today's Russia -- a whistleblower who quit his job with the state environmental agency Rosprirodnadzor and went public about the extent of the disaster.
    Ryabinin says he was first alerted to the scale of the crisis on May 29 by photographs posted on Instagram. He was immediately alarmed: the Daldykan and another river polluted by the spill flow into Lake Pyasino. From there, the contamination could spread all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
    Vasily Ryabinin