At least 12 workers were killed and 64 others are missing after a water pipe burst at Russia’s largest hydroelectric plant on August 17, 2009. Federal investigators said a change in water pressure caused the pipe to burst during repair work at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant in southern Siberia, flooding a turbine room and destroying walls and ceilings. The accident damaged equipment and forced the power station to shut down. However, reports said there was no damage to the plant’s dam, a massive structure that stretches more than half a mile across the Yenisei River. The plant’s operator, RusHydro, said the damage would run into “billions of roubles.” A company spokesperson added that replacing the damaged equipment at the plant may take up to two years but the undamaged turbines could be put back into operation in a month. Rebuilding the plant, meanwhile, would take an estimated four years at a cost of RUB10 billion (USD315 million), the company said.
An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the incident. Components at the plant were undergoing repairs when the accident occurred, causing a large portion of the power unit to break off and puncture the ceiling and wall, allowing water to pour in and flood the room, officials said. All of the plant’s 10 power units are currently shutdown with no firm estimate when operations will be restarted. RusHydro said one of the plant’s 10 turbine engines was destroyed in the incident, two were partly destroyed and three others were damaged.
Fourteen workers were injured in the incident. Russian officials have warned it is unlikely any of the 64 workers trapped inside the plant are likely to have survived the accident. Officials said divers are currently searching for survivors in the flooded turbine hall. RusHydro said each bereaved family would receive RUB1 million (USD31,300) in compensation for their losses. According to the Moscow Times, the PRIME-TASS information agency reported that the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant is insured by ROSNO, and RusHydro could claim USD200 million for the damage.
The accident sparked panic among nearby residents who feared the massive dam at the facility might collapse, but calm was restored when Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said the dam remained intact and there was no danger it would burst. However, reports said the accident produced an oil spill that floated down the Yenisei River, which flows north through Siberia to the Arctic. The Natural Resources Ministry said the slick has grown to stretch over 50 miles (80 kilometers) down the Yenisei.
The incident at the plant severely disrupted power to homes and businesses in Siberia. Reports said around half the residential buildings in Abakan, the capital of the Khakassia region where the plant is located, lost power. Power shortages were reported about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) away in the city of Tomsk and the mining area of Kuzbass. The plant is also a major supplier of power to at least two smelters owned by United Company RUSAL, the world’s largest aluminum producer. UC RUSAL said it may be forced to cut aluminum production by 500,000 tons, equivalent to 11 percent of last year’s output, following the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant. UC RUSAL’s two plants nearest the dam have combined annual capacity of 817,000 tons.
The Sayano-Shushenskaya plant opened in 1978 and provides around 10 percent of Siberia’s energy needs. The plant is one of the most powerful in the world with a capacity of 6.4 million kilowatts per hour.
Sources: CNN News, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, BBC News, Moscow Times, Financial Times
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