"Cold City" blends together multiple references: the Cold War, cold climates, and closed cities. Closed cities were secret cities in the USSR and eastern Europe engaged in research and development of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Cities like Severomorsk, on the Barents Sea or Ozersk, in the remote Asian interior are better known now for issues surrounding the dumping of nuclear waste. Founded as a Stalinist gulag, the city of Norilsk in the Siberian arctic is the most northerly closed city, existing at the fringes of what is a habitable environment.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in the late 80’s the entire infrastructure of the Cold War seemed to vanish with it. The old Soviet landscape is littered with concrete monoliths set against an endless Siberian plain. What was, an immediate threat that impacted the lives of every westerner, the Cold War belonged to an era that now seems long gone and in some sense almost quaint.
A city like Norilsk however, despite its profile within the old Soviet regime is not some antiquated Cold War outpost. The city of almost 200,000 is the most northerly large city in the world, the world’s largest nickel producer, and the arctic’s largest industrial project. At the same time, Norilsk Nickel pumps out 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions by itself, while crumbling buildings and infrastructure are compromised by global warming and thawing permafrost. (60% of the city’s buildings are in danger of collapsing, according to authorities ). The lunar-like landscape that surrounds Norilsk might summon memories of old nuke test sites, but in fact it is a consequence of decades- long pollution. Norilsk has for years been one of the most contaminated places on earth.
I would describe Norilsk as a place that embodies the idea of imminent threat, a sort of stage setting for the transformative issues of the past half century or more. In my fictional city I wanted to reflect some of these issues.