Twelve people have been confirmed dead and 64 remain missing after an accident at Russia’s largest hydroelectric power station on Monday.
Reports suggest that an oil-filled transformer exploded, causing a turbine room to flood at the Sayano-Shushenskaya station in Siberia.
The disaster is a haunting reminder of the structural insufficiency that plagues Russia. Worldfocus contributing blogger Paul Goble writes that the incident is symptomatic of serious infrastructure issues in the country.
The deadly disaster at the Sayano-Shushensk dam in Khakassia, the fifth largest hydro-electric facility in the world, occurred because officials sought to generate more electricity than the dam was designed to produce and because Moscow has ignored repeated warnings about such shortcomings or invest in the repair of such critical infrastructure.
As a result, Dmitry Verkhoturov, a Russian commentator who specializes on environmental questions, says that there is a very real danger that his country is entering into “a period of serious technogenic accidents as has been predicted” since the start of this decade and even earlier.
Both the impact of the accident in terms of lives and lost production as well as the accident’s proximate cause are still to be determined, Verkhoturov notes. The number of those killed is rising, with more than 60 people still missing, and “many major enterprises are without power,” including energy-intensive aluminum factors in Sayan, Khakassia, and Krasnoyarsk.
Sergey Shoygu, Russia’s emergency situation minister, says that it will take some time to determine exactly what happened and why and an even longer time, one measured “in months and most likely even in years” to repair the hydro-electric facility and bring its power production back on line.
But if the specifics remain to be determined, the general causes do not, Verkhoturov suggests. In June and July, RusHydro which operated the facility was using higher water levels in order to produce “record” amounts of electricity, some 105 million kilowatts every day, the highest output in “the entire 30 years” of the dam’s existence.
And in an eerie echo of the Chernobyl atomic power disaster, Russian officials at the dam took pride in the fact that they did not employ any local people, as if that provided a guarantee the dam would be safe. “We have no Tuvans and Khakass,” the deputy director of the hydro-station said in September 2008.
The pursuit of ever greater power output, regardless of what the station was designed for, and the arrogant self-confidence of the operators that the dam would operate regardless of what they did because they were keeping non-Russians away from the controls are the real causes of this disaster.
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